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Health

A new malaria vaccine shows most effective protection against the disease yet

Scientists are developing the world’s first vaccine that offers long-term protection against malaria, the world’s biggest infectious disease killer after tuberculosis.

The experimental vaccine called PfSPZ was developed through a joint effort between biotech company Sanaria, National Institutes of Health scientists and University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by a parasite carried in mosquitoes. The parasite can persist in the human body for years and makes it difficult to create a vaccine for malaria because of its complicated life cycle.

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria. Malaria infects over 214 million people per year and kills about half a million. The people who are most at risk are children, pregnant women, and travelers from malaria free areas.

While bed nets and medications have helped lower the prevalence of malaria worlwide, a long-lasting vaccination could result in complete eradication of the disease.

"Our goal is a vaccine that can be used to immunize the entire population to halt transmission and eliminate the parasite. That's a rather lofty goal," Sanaria CEO Dr. Stephen Hoffman told NBC News.

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine showed that exposing adults to a weakened version of the malaria-causing parasite offered at least a year of protection. The vaccine also prevents malaria from being passed on from a human to another mosquito.

The PfSPZ vaccine has an overall 55 percent protection rate for men and women. Until now, the only licensed malaria vaccine made by British pharmaceutical company GSK offered just 30 percent protection in comparison.

The new vaccine has only undergone the first stage of testing, and will need to complete more trials before it can be offered clinically. It could be available by 2018 if the trials are successful.

A long-term vaccine could provide protection for travelers, military personnel, and children in malaria-stricken areas. It’s also essential for carrying out effective mass vaccination campaigns to stop transmission and potentially keep the disease from spreading.

With all the fear surrounding the Zika virus, it's good to see scientists get a better grip on at least one mosquito-borne disease.