The List: The 10 Most Common Causes of Death in New Jersey

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Having claimed more than 4,200 lives in New Jersey in less than six weeks, COVID-19 is bound to be one of the largest causes of death in the state this year.

The first death from COVID-19 in the state was on March 10. And, although some had scoffed that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus,  would be akin to the flu, COVID-19 has proven otherwise. Already, it has been responsible for triple the number of deaths caused by influenza and pneumonia, which averaged about 1,300 a year over the last decade. The proportion of those who have tested positive for the virus and who later died is hovering near 5%, though that actual death rate is likely smaller; that’s because the number of those who have contracted COVID-19 is believed to be far larger than just the number testing positive. Health officials say many who likely have contracted the virus have not been tested because they were asymptomatic, only experienced mild symptoms or because of the limited number of tests available.

Over the last several days, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 alone has exceeded the average number of people who die each day in New Jersey — 208, based on data from 2018, the most recent year available. And since the beginning of April, COVID-19 has also killed more people per day than the average number of daily deaths due to heart disease, which is the most common cause of death in New Jersey.

Dr. Christine Tan, the state epidemiologist, said the number of deaths due to COVID-19 has been spiking because fatalities are “a lagging indicator” of the disease. People who recently died from complications due to the virus likely caught it more than a week ago. Those with a mild case tend to recover within seven to 10 days, but those who wind up hospitalized could be ill for weeks. According to the World Health Organization’s final report on the virus in China, where the outbreak began, those who died first showed symptoms between two and eight weeks earlier.

The length of the outbreak and the state’s success at quashing it and preventing it from rebounding in the New Jersey populace ultimately will dictate how deadly COVID-19 winds up being. Based on the number of deaths from the most common causes in 2018 and if no other New Jerseyans were to die of the disease, COVID-19 would rank as the fourth biggest cause of death.

The DOH’s most recent Report of Leading Causes of Death, for 2018, lists the most common causes of the 75,802 deaths that year. In recent years, two illnesses have been the leading causes of deaths in New Jersey, with the next most common tending to remain among the top 10, though not necessarily in the same rank order.

These were the 10 most common causes of deaths in 2018:

  1. Heart disease: responsible for 19,048 deaths, or 25.1% of all;
  2. Cancer: 16,012 total deaths, or 21.1%;
  3. Unintentional injury, such as drowning, falls and traffic accidents: 4,676, or 6.2%;
  4. Stroke: 3,444, or 4.5%;
  5. Chronic lower respiratory disease or CLRD, including COPD, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma: 3,213, or 4.2%;
  6. Alzheimer’s disease: 2,710, or 3.6%;
  7. Septicemia: 1,948, or 2.6%;
  8. Diabetes: 1,881, or 2.2%;
  9. Kidney disease: 1,672, or 2.2%;
  10. Influenza and pneumonia: 1,465, or 1.9%;

All of these, except septicemia, are also among the most common causes of death in the United States. The 10th most common cause of death in the U.S. is suicide.