ATLANTA – The number of deaths in the United States rose in 2005 after a sharp decline the year earlier, a disappointing reversal that suggests the 2004 numbers were a fluke. Cancer deaths were also up.
U.S. health officials said they believe the drop in deaths seen earlier may have been due to 2004’s unusually mild flu season. Deaths from flu and lower respiratory disease jumped in 2005.
The new mortality data were released Wednesday in a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. It was a preliminary report, based on about 99 percent of the death records reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for 2005.
Last year, statistics from 2004 showed U.S. deaths fell to 2,397,615. It was a decline of about 50,000 from 2003, and was the largest drop in deaths in nearly 70 years. Some experts saw it as a sign of the triumph of modern medicine.
But the preliminary 2005 death count was up more than 50,000 – about 2,447,900 – almost back to the 2003 level.
“The best way to look at this is in five-year groupings, because every once in a while you are going to have an aberration,” said Ken Thorpe, an Emory University health policy professor.
An unusually mild flu season in 2004 cut the flu death rate – deaths per 100,000 population – by 7 percent. And it likely had a ripple effect by not worsening the condition of frail patients who ultimately died of something else, government health scientists said.
The 2005 flu season was closer to normal, and deaths from the virus rose by more than 3,000 from 2004. Deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases increased by nearly 9,000.
Heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 3 killers – killed fewer people in 2005 than 2004. But the No. 2 cause of death, cancer, rose to about 559,000 from 554,000, according to the report.
The overall age-adjusted rate for all deaths in 2005 fell to 799 per 100,000 population, down from 801 per 100,000 in 2004. The 2005 rate was an all-time low, but the rate has been in a general decline for more 50 years, according to government data.
The death rates for heart disease, stroke and cancer all declined too. The death rate was 210 per 100,000 for heart disease; 184 for cancer; and 46.5. for stroke.
U.S. life expectancy inched up to 77.9 from the previous record, 77.8, recorded for 2004. The increase was more dramatic in contrast with 1995, when life expectancy was 75.8, and 1955, when it was 69.6.