COVID was third-leading cause of death during pandemic, study shows

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer during the pandemic, according to a new study of national death certificate records.

A research letter published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine found that 350,000 Americans died of COVID from March to December 2020. During the same period, 580,000 died of heart disease and 501,000 died of cancer.

From January to October 2021, 346,000 Americans died of COVID, compared to 571,000 who died of heart disease and 502,000 who died of cancer.

“The pandemic may also have indirectly led to increases in other causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, and unintentional injuries,” the study reported.

The fourth and fifth leading causes of death from March 2020 to November 2021 were accidental deaths and strokes, respectively.

During both years, accidental deaths were the leading cause of death among Americans aged 1 to 44, while COVID deaths were higher among older Americans.

Among those aged 45 to 54 years, the study found that COVID was the leading cause of death in 2021, killing 30,000 people — 16.8% of all deaths for that age group.

Four public health researchers studied final national death certificate data for 2020 and provisional data for 2021. They obtained the most recent records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 5.


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