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How COVID-19 projections compare to leading causes of death in America

  • How COVID-19 projections compare to leading causes of death in America

    Until the unforeseeable novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, deaths from infectious diseases had been on a decline in the U.S thanks to achievements like increased sanitation, vaccinations, and campaign programs. We haven't seen an episode of horrifying disease-related death rates since HIV (first recognized in 1981) or the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 500,000 Americans in less than one year.

    In April 2020, COVID-19 became the leading cause of death. To date, this respiratory disease has already caused more deaths in the U.S. per year than all but the top seven leading causes of death; by August, it’s projected that COVID-19 will cause more deaths than every leading cause of death (except heart disease) in a full year.

    To determine the leading causes of death in America, Stacker consulted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER System database on Underlying Causes of Death. The top 50 causes of death from 1999 to 2018 are ranked here according to their rate per 100,000 people. To compare the annual deaths due to these causes to the deaths from COVID-19, Stacker consulted two additional sources. First, we compared annual deaths of every major cause to COVID-19 deaths as of May 18, via the COVID Tracking Project. Second, we compared annual deaths of every major cause to the projected deaths that COVID-19 is likely to cause by Aug. 4, via modeling by data scientist Youyang Gu.

    Youyang Gu’s estimates are widely cited by researchers and journalists, including by the CDC, as analysis that takes into account epidemiological factors and state-by-state reopenings. According to these sources, COVID-19 has caused 84,640 total deaths as of May 18 and will have caused 195,077 total deaths by Aug. 4. It is important to note that these figures do not reflect a full year of COVID-19; modeling data beyond August are not yet available. Additionally, because of insufficient and unavailable COVID-19 testing and America’s encumbered medical system, the number of deaths quoted in this article are likely less than the true death toll.

    Related: Biggest population groups vulnerable to COVID-19 in every state

  • #50. Motor vehicle accident in traffic

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 10,742
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.5
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.9 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 18.2 times the deaths of this cause

    In 2018, the rate of motor-vehicle fatalities was 12 deaths per 100,000 people—which is actually a 61% improvement from when the death rate peaked in 1937 (30.8 deaths per 100,000). Since the early 20th century, vehicle safety features and technology has greatly improved, as has driver behavior, which makes traveling by car a lot safer.

  • #49. Stomach cancer

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 10,750
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.5
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.9 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 18.1 times the deaths of this cause

    According to the American Cancer Society, stomach cancer was the leading cause of death in the U.S. until the late 1930s. There are a lot fewer new cases in the U.S. today, with a 1.5% decrease of diagnoses over the past 10 years, mostly affecting the elderly.

  • #48. Alcoholic cirrhosis of liver

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 10,886
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.6
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.8 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 17.9 times the deaths of this cause

    As reported by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in April 2013, death rates from alcohol-related liver cirrhosis had decreased from 20–25 per 100,000 people (early 1900s) to less than 10. This positive change is thanks to better education around alcohol’s harmful effects and applied policies that control sales.

  • #47. Chronic ischemic heart disease

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,123
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.7
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.6 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 17.5 times the deaths of this cause

    Chronic ischemic heart disease (IHD), also called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease, is a condition that involves limited blood flow to the heart. According to a study published in the AHA Journal, IHD is a major cause of death worldwide. Between 2005 and 2015, mortality rates took a steep decline; a decrease in smoking and hypertension, plus an increase in diabetes and obesity were also observed.

  • #46. Multiple myeloma

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,161
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.7
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.6 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 17.5 times the deaths of this cause

    Thanks to new developments, drug combinations, stem cell transplants/maintenance therapy, and other treatments over the past few decades, patients suffering from multiple myeloma have continued to experience much better outcomes. However, MM is a cancer of the white blood cells (plasma cells), which makes it difficult for these patients to fight off infections; thus, MM patients are especially at risk for catching and becoming very ill from COVID-19.

  • #45. Emphysema

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,430
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.8
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.4 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 17.1 times the deaths of this cause

    Emphysema is a type of COPD that weakens the lungs’ air sacs. Smoking tobacco is the leading cause, but poor air quality, secondhand smoke, and genetics may play a role. A 2014 study published by NCBI concluded that lower emphysema death rates were strongly tied to decreased levels of air pollutants in North Carolina.

  • #44. Hypertensive heart disease with heart failure

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,533
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.8
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.3 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 16.9 times the deaths of this cause

    According to the CDC, heart failure was responsible for one in eight deaths in 2017. As obesity and diabetes have become increasingly bigger health issues in America over the years, those death rates from heart failure have been increasing as a result.

  • #43. Unspecified fall

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,627
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.8
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.3 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 16.8 times the deaths of this cause

    The CDC declares that unintentional falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for people who are 65 years of age or older. Unfortunately, the age-adjusted death toll from unspecified falls is rising, since the 65-plus population is among the fastest-growing age groups in the U.S.

  • #42. Intentional self-harm with a firearm

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,831
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.9
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.2 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 16.5 times the deaths of this cause

    According to the CDC, gun suicide rates in the U.S. have increased by 30% over the last two decades and has increased every year over the past decade in almost every age group. America’s growing suicide problem can primarily be attributed to easy access to firearms and their lethal nature.

  • #41. COPD with acute lower respiratory infection

    - Annual deaths due to this cause, 1999 to 2018: 11,897
    - Deaths per 100,000 people: 3.9
    - As of May 18: COVID-19 has caused 7.1 times the deaths of this cause
    - By Aug. 4: COVID-19 is projected to cause 16.4 times the deaths of this cause

    According to the World Health Organization, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with acute lower respiratory tract infections is one of the three leading causes of death among children and adults in the world—and the death numbers are on the rise. Research shows that COPD patients have a much higher risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 infections.

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