Malaria is fueling the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa by boosting the HIV in people's bodies for weeks at a time
It's a vicious cycle: People with HIV in turn are more vulnerable to malaria.
University of Washington researchers estimated the impact of the overlapping infections, and concluded the interaction could be blamed for thousands of HIV infections and almost a million bouts of malaria over two decades in one part of Kenya alone.
The research, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, highlights the need for a joint attack on both epidemics.
"It's an important paper," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government's leading infectious disease specialist. "We really need to be much more serious about what we do about malaria at the same time we're serious about what we do about HIV."
Malaria sickens up to half a billion people annually and kills more than 1 million, mostly young children and mostly in Africa - which also bears the biggest HIV burden. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 24.7 million HIV-infected people; about 2 million died this year.
Scientists have long suspected the diseases fuel each other. The new Washington study created a mathematical model to figure out just how much.
The result: Malaria may be responsible for 5 percent of HIV infections in regions where both diseases are prevalent, said lead researcher Laith Abu-Raddad.
Why? HIV is most easily spread when patients have high virus levels in their blood, and a bout of malaria causes a temporary surge - a stunning sevenfold increase - in those levels, he explained. The surge may last six to eight weeks, far longer than it takes to recover from a typical malaria bout and feel up to sexual activity again, he added.
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