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Malaria Deaths Twice as High as Previously Reported

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Malaria kills 1.2 million people each year, more than twice as many deaths as previously thought, according to new research published in The Lancet.

However, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which conducted the new research, efforts to combat the disease, both through drug treatments and prevention, have resulted in a decline in malaria-related deaths.

"This runs counter to most assumptions about the disease," said Dr. Stephen Lim, associate professor of global health at the Institute.  "The good news, though, is that even though the overall number of deaths is higher, the trend is sharply downward."

Researchers also found that while many believe most malaria deaths occur in children under age 5, in fact, 42 percent of all malaria deaths occur in older children and adults.

Authors from the Institute collected data on malaria deaths over two decades, from 1980 to 2010.  They found that 1.2 million people died of the disease in 2010: twice as many deaths as reported by the World Malaria Report released last year.  The World Health Organization estimated that about 650,000 people worldwide died of the disease in 2010.

Researchers said the higher death tally is likely due to the fact that more reliable data became available.

Based on the new numbers, malaria deaths have fallen by 32 percent since 2004, dropping from 1.8 million deaths worldwide to 1.2 million in 2010.

"That's a massive decrease, and it appears to be the result of the huge scale-up in spending to fight malaria, especially by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria," Lim said.

Malaria is caused by a parasite passed to humans through mosquito bites.  The parasites then travel through the bloodstream to the liver and infect red blood cells, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The parasites multiply within the body, and then symptoms, including chills, fever, vomiting and coma, occur 10 days to four weeks after the mosquito bite occurs.  If left untreated, complications can include kidney failure, liver failure, meningitis and, ultimately, death.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio