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These were Idaho’s five leading causes of death in 2021. Where did COVID-19 rank?

UPDATED: Tue., May 17, 2022

By Shaun Goodwin Idaho Statesman

COVID-19 was the cause of 2,403 deaths in Idaho in 2021, but it wasn’t the No. 1 cause of fatalities in the Gem State for the year.

In fact, COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in Idaho for 2021 and lagged far behind two other nationwide-leading diseases. In the Gem State, the top five causes of death last year all were diseases. Nos. 4 and 5 differ from what was seen in national rankings.

All data is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The entire data set for all causes of death in Idaho and throughout the United States can be found on the CDC’s website.

1. Heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both the United States and Idaho, according to the CDC. Nationwide, one person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease, and the illness is responsible for approximately one in every four deaths.

In Idaho, heart disease was responsible for 180.9 deaths per 100,000 people following the third quarter of 2021, the most recent data provided by the CDC.

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, with the most common in the U.S. being coronary heart disease. In 2019, over 50,000 Idahoans reported to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that they have heart disease. Within that population, 31% reported diabetes, 71% had high blood pressure and 68% had high cholesterol.

2. Cancer

The second-leading cause of death in the U.S., cancer also sits firmly at No. 2 in Idaho. It was responsible for 168.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021. Each year, nearly 600,000 people die nationwide from a form of cancer.

The Cancer Data Registry of Idaho releases an annual report on cancer deaths in the state, with the most recent report for 2019 released in December 2021.

The report found that lung and bronchus cancers were the most deadly in 2019, causing 572 deaths and accounting for 19.5% of cancer deaths in Idaho despite making up only 10.4% of overall cases. Lung cancer has such a high death rate because lung cancer cells are often resistant to chemotherapy and multiply quickly, according to the National Foundation for Cancer Research.

The top two types of cancer in Idaho in 2019 were prostate and breast cancer, which has continued to be the trend in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society.

3. COVID-19

More than 2,400 people died from COVID-19 in 2021, accounting for 13% of the deaths in the state last year. The infectious disease was responsible for 124.3 deaths for every 100,000 people.

In 2021, the odds of dying from COVID-19 if you caught the illness were approximately 1 in 100.

“If you had a one in 100 chance of winning the lottery, you’d buy a ticket every day because you’d think that’s pretty good odds,” Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho’s state epidemiologist, previously told the Idaho Statesman.

“This is killing a lot more people than flu does, even in a bad flu season.”

For the latest COVID-19 data, visit the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s case and vaccination dashboards.

4. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is also classified as chronic lower respiratory diseases, and is the pairing of two incurable respiratory diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Asthma is also classified as a chronic lower respiratory disease, but the symptoms can be controlled.

COPD was responsible for 46.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Idaho in 2021. Nationwide, unintentional injuries were the fourth-most common cause of death, with COPD ranking 6th nationally.

According to data for Idaho from the American Lung Association in 2018, 37,500 males (5.8% of Idaho’s male population) and 36,700 females (5.6%) reported having a type of COPD. Hawaii had the lowest percentage of its population report COPD (4%) and West Virginia had the highest (15.3%).

5. Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease ranked just below COPD in 2021, responsible for 44 deaths per 100,000 people in the state. Alzheimer’s ranked 7th nationally. The No. 5 cause of death in the U.S. was strokes.

As of 2020, 27,000 Idahoans older than 65 were living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in Idaho, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association. The association has said it expects that number to increase to 33,000 by 2025.

Because of Idaho’s growing population, the CDC predicts that the Gem State will be one of the fastest-growing states for Alzheimer’s disease rates, according to previous Statesman reporting. The National Institute of Aging labels Alzheimer’s a progressive brain disease, meaning it’s most common in the elderly.

“The truth is, less than 5 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases have a genetic basis. Most people don’t understand that at all,” Troy Rohn, a biology professor at Boise State, previously told the Statesman. “The biggest risk factor is age — period. If you don’t want to get Alzheimer’s, don’t age. You won’t get the disease.”

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