* Malaria kills some 600,000 people a year, mainly in Africa
* Modern housing reduced risk of malaria by almost 50 percent
* Researchers say better housing crucial for public health
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, June 9 (Reuters) - Modernising mud huts and other traditional housing could significantly cut the risk of malaria for people living in some of the highest risk areas of Africa, Asia and South America, according to new research.
Scientists who studied the impact of types of housing on peoples' risk of infection with the mosquito-borne disease found that residents of modern homes were 47 percent less likely to be infected than people living in traditional houses.
People in modern houses, equipped with closed eaves, ceilings, screened doors and windows, were also 45 to 65 percent less likely to have clinical malaria, which brings a high fever with infection, the researchers found.
"Improved housing has huge potential to reduce malaria transmission around the globe and to keep malaria at bay where we have eliminated it," said Steve Lindsay, a professor from Durham University in northern England who co-led the work.
Lindsay added that since many of the world's major vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and lymphatic filariasis, are transmitted indoors, more modern and enclosed housing would also offer vital protection against several other dangerous infections.
Malaria kills some 600,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization, and the vast majority of those deaths are among babies and children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most deaths are caused by the Plasmodium falciparum form of malaria, but the disease is also found across Asia and South America, where a less deadly but more persistent strain known as Plasmodium vivax is common.
For their study, published on Tuesday in the Malaria Journal, Lindsay and co-researcher Lucy Tusting of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine reviewed 90 studies comparing malaria cases in modern houses with cases in traditional houses - built with mud, stone, bamboo or wood walls; thatched, mud or wood roofs; and earth or wood floors.
Trusting said the results showing dramatically lower malaria risks for people living in modern houses, underlined how housing improvements should be an important pillar of public health.
"This is a welcome finding at a time when we are facing increasing resistance to our most effective insecticides and drugs," she added in a statement. (Editing by David Holmes)