Over 400,000 people died from malaria in 2015. That number is down significantly from 2000, which saw nearly twice as many fatalities from the mosquito-borne disease, but malaria still threatens about half the global population. There's good news, though: A long-lasting vaccine for the disease may be on the horizon, a new study indicates.
"These results are really important," researcher Kirsten E. Lyke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine told the Telegraph. "Malaria has such a devastating effect on children, especially in Africa. This vaccine has the potential to help travelers, military personnel and children in malaria-endemic areas."
Mosquitos infected with a particular parasite transmit malaria to humans, whose liver and blood then serve as parasitic breeding grounds. The disease then manifests in flu-like symptoms that aren't necessarily fatal, but can be if untreated. Using a weakened parasite strain, scientists from the University of Maryland, National Institutes of Health and researchers at biotech company Sanaria, Inc. developed a vaccine (PfSPZ) that inoculates patients against malaria for some three weeks — or so they thought. According to this most recent study, published in the journal of Nature Medicine, PfSPZ appears to protect people for as long as a year.
The researchers looked at a group of adults between the ages of 18 and 45 who had never contracted the disease. Fifty-nine received the vaccine while 32 didn't, but all were exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitos. More than half of the subjects were immune for about a year, and according to the Telegraph, unable to spread the disease to others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite the "technical complexity of developing any vaccine against a parasite" as one reason why no malaria vaccine is yet available. While others are in the works, PfSPZ represents a big step toward keeping the disease contained.