Special Report

The Most Unusual Causes of Death By State

16. Iowa
> Cause of death: Other and unspecified acute lower respiratory infections
> No. deaths 2001-2010: 26
> Age-adjusted mortality rate: 0.06 per 100,000
> Mortality rate compared to national: 3.0

Other and unspecified acute lower respiratory infections refers to lung infections with no specific cause or type (e.g. not a bacterial or viral pneumonia, not a bronchitis, etc.). With a very low number of deaths, this is likely not particularly statistically significant. The age-adjusted mortality rate for this category is three times higher in Iowa than in the rest of the country. Five other states (Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin) report rates at least twice the national average. The vast majority of states, simply do not have enough deaths reported in this category to even reliably measure.

17. Kansas
> Cause of death: Other and unspecified acute lower respiratory infections
> No. deaths 2001-2010: 46
> Age-adjusted mortality rate: 0.15 per 100,000
> Mortality rate compared to national: 7.5

In Kansas, the mortality rate is 7.5 times higher than the national average, but still only accounts for 0.15 deaths per 100,000. Only atherosclerosis and “other acute lower respiratory infections” (a broader category which includes the processes in the above grouping) also have rates in Kansas that are more than twice the national average.

States Where the Most (and Least) People Work for the Government

18. Kentucky
> Cause of death: Pneumoconioses and chemical effects
> No. deaths 2001-2010: 449
> Age-adjusted mortality rate: 1.04 per 100,000
> Mortality rate compared to national: 3.3

Pneumoconiosis is a restrictive lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust. It is better known as “black lung” and most frequently associated with coal workers. Small particulate matter, like coal dust, when inhaled into the lungs, cannot be coughed out or absorbed. Instead, the body builds a wall of inflammatory tissue around the particles, and over time this leads to a significant restriction in the ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. These processes have a reported age-adjusted mortality rate in Kentucky that is 3.3 times higher than the national average.

19. Louisiana
> Cause of death: Syphilis
> No. deaths 2001-2010: 22
> Age-adjusted mortality rate: 0.05 per 100,000
> Mortality rate compared to national: 5.0

Syphilis is a bacterial infection generally spread through sexual contact and is one of the more common sexually transmitted infections. It is easily prevented with safe sex practices, and similarly easy to treat if caught early. Unfortunately, when the disease goes untreated, it can lead to severe organ damage and eventually death. As of 2013, Louisiana had the third-highest poverty rate in the country, the sixth-highest rate of people who couldn’t afford a doctor’s visit, and the 10th-lowest rate of people with a primary care physician. As with most readily treatable infections, those without access to care are more likely to suffer the consequences. In Louisiana, the mortality rate from syphilis is five times higher than the national rate, but still only 0.05 deaths per 100,000.

The States With the Highest (and Lowest) Obesity Rates

20. Maine
> Cause of death: Influenza
> No. deaths 2001-2010: 154
> Age-adjusted mortality rate: 0.99 per 100,000
> Mortality rate compared to national: 2.6

The flu is a virus that spreads rapidly through the air from one person to another, and “flu season” coincides with winter. In cold weather, researchers have found that the virus forms a special outer coating that helps it float through the air, aiding in transmission. Maine, as with many other Northern states, has a 2.6 times higher mortality rate from the flu than the national average.