Malaria-stricken star Cheryl Cole was “just hours from death” when she was diagnosed with the potentially fatal disease, according to the papers.

The News Of The World reports that the The X Factor judge – who has been transferred to a private clinic after doctors declared her out of danger – is still on oxygen, on a drip and unable to talk.

“We nearly lost her and the battle is far from over. She is so weak and this horrible illness has taken complete hold of her,” a friend of hers told the paper.

“It got so bad she was literally only hours from death’s door. Thank goodness she was diagnosed in time.

“There was no news coming out of the hospital because it was all so touch and go. We couldn’t give any assurances to fans because there weren’t any to give,” the source added.

“The fact is, we came close to losing someone very special. She can’t even speak at the moment and doesn’t know what’s happening to her.”

Cheryl is thought to have contracted the disease while on holiday in Tanzania with dancer Derek Hough last month – despite taking anti-malaria medication.

The paper also reports that Cheryl is likely to take at least two months to recover fully – which could jeopardise any further appearances on this year’s series of The X Factor.

She has already had to pull out of the last leg of auditions and may not make it to bootcamp either – while a question mark hangs over whether she will be able to appear at the live shows.

“Cheryl’s not going to be back for a long time,” the source said. “She won’t be seen in public for at least two months.

Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger – who stood in for Dannii Minogue at auditions this week – and Cheryl’s Girls Aloud bandmate Kimberley Walsh have been tipped as possible stand-ins for the star.

“Obviously all we care about is Cheryl’s health and that’s the most important thing,” a show insider said. “But we do have a show to produce.”