Death rate for flu, pneumonia fell sharply in 2006

Jun 12, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday that the death rate in the United States dropped significantly from 2005 to 2006, led by a 12.8% decline in mortality related to seasonal influenza and pneumonia.

The findings were released in a 52-page preliminary report on death trends for 2006 from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Melonie Heron, a demographer at the CDC and lead author of the report, told CIDRAP News that the agency's experts aren't sure yet what contributed to the drop in influenza and pneumonia deaths. "We're all speculating. It may be that the flu strain that year was less virulent or that the flu vaccine was really good," she said.

A total of 56,247 deaths were attributed to flu and pneumonia in 2006, a rate of 18.8 deaths per 100,000 population, according to the CDC report.

The overall age-adjusted death rate in 2006 was 776.4 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with 799 per 100,000 in 2005, the CDC said in a news release. The preliminary number of total deaths was 2,425,900, down 22,117 from 2005.

"With a rapidly growing older population, declines in the number of deaths (as opposed to death rates) are unusual, and the 2006 decline is likely the result of more mild influenza mortality in 2006 compared with 2005," the CDC release said.

Death rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States dropped significantly in 2006, but the drop in flu and pneumonia mortality was the steepest. Other conditions that had declining death rates included lower respiratory diseases (6.5%), stroke (6.4%), heart disease (5.5%), diabetes (5.3%), hypertension (5%), chronic liver disease/cirrhosis (3.3%), suicide (2.8%), septicemia (2.7%), cancer (1.6%), and accidents (1.5%).

Heron said she was surprised that deaths dropped in so many of the categories and said the drop in diabetes deaths is particularly notable. "We're making improvements in treating diabetes," she said.

On the other hand, officials have also noted a rise in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, which could reflect the steadily aging population, she said. Alzheimer's disease passed diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in 2006, according to the report. "We'll keep watching as more and more baby boomers age," Heron said.

For the first time, US life expectancy reached 78.1 years, an increase of 0.3 from 2005, according to the CDC release.

Life expectancy in the United States still lags behind about 30 other countries, according to World Health Organization data for the same year, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday.

Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania, told the AP that while US life expectancy doesn't appear very impressive, "we may be in the process of catching up."

Racial disparities in the death trends are still apparent, but aren't as acute as in previous years, the authors reported. However, record high life expectancies were noted for both blacks and whites of both genders.

The CDC said the data are based on more than 95% of death certificates that are collected in 50 states and the District of Columbia as part of the National Vital Statistics System.

Heron said a final report on 2006 deaths would be published in the fall.

See also:

Jun 11 CDC press release

CDC preliminary report on 2006 death trends

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