What is the United States’ bloodiest month for residents?
People pass away every day for reasons varying from common illnesses like heart disease to uncommon events like being struck by lightening. But which month in the United States sees the highest mortality rate?
The month that ushers in the New Year, January, is the bloodiest in the United States. According to a Live Science study of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Wonder database, which records how and when people die, between 2010 and 2020, an average of 251,699 Americans perished in January each year. According to Live Science, the estimates for the other months during this time span vary from 218,102 (August) to 242,475 (December).
According to other studies, January is the bloodiest month in the United States. The Washington Post(opens in new tab) conducted a study of the CDC Wonder database and found that from 1999 to 2014, there were 40,000 to 60,000 more deaths in January than in August or September.
Why is January such a risky month? According to the World Health Organization(opens in new tab) (WHO), the culprit could be the world’s most prolific killer: heart disease, a 1999 study in the journal Circulation(opens in new tab) found, noting that heart conditions were more fatal during the winter months, especially January and February. According to the British Heart Foundation(opens in new tab), during the colder months, more bodily heat is lost, which forces the heart to work harder and puts additional burden on individuals who already have cardiac conditions.
That does not entirely account for the fact that more people died in January than the rest of the year in sunnier places like California and Florida.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, admitted that the question of which season is deadlier—summer or winter—has been a topic of continuing discussion. Climate change has led to an increase in diseases brought on by the heat. The most susceptible groups to hot, muggy weather include young infants, elderly people, and immunocompromised people. The winter months are more lethal, despite the summer’s higher danger of heatstroke and organ failure. This is why: The winter months are typically when the flu and other lung infections flourish.
Glatter wrote in an email to Live Science, “In the winter, influenza, along with secondary bacterial pneumonia and other typically benign respiratory viruses such as RSV, enterovirus D68, and rhinoviruses,” are worrisome.
During the cold, pathogens that trigger respiratory illnesses are everywhere. Closed areas are spawning grounds for germs and viruses because of the prolonged close proximity of large numbers of people. The University of Southern California’s Verdugo Hills Hospital (opens in new tab) claims that the flu virus develops a tougher lipid coating during the winter, which, coupled with a more weakened immune system (another drawback of winter), increases the likelihood of becoming unwell. According to the CDC, the flu still claims millions of lives globally and 12,000 to 52,000 in the United States each year.(opens in new tab). According to the WHO, lower respiratory diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia are the fourth-leading cause of mortality globally.(opens in new tab).
But a wide range of other variables also contribute to how dangerous winter is. The use of space heaters, which can cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, elderly people living alone, exposure to extremely cold and windy conditions, and lack of sufficient heating are just a few of the issues that make January the bloodiest month of the year, according to Glatter.
Death rates may also be impacted by the festive season’s fallout. Overeating, drinking too much salt, and using too much booze all contribute to the psychological and bodily stressors that make this season the “most wonderful time of the year.” But according to Glatter, suicides are not the primary causes of death in January, despite the widespread belief that holiday and post-holiday suicides are to blame for the rise in fatalities. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the spring months of April, May, and June typically have the highest rate of deaths in the United States.
In the previous few years, the winter has also seen an increase in COVID-19 deaths. According to the U.S. Census statistics, COVID-19 increased mortality rates in the U.S. by 19% between 2019 and 2020. Since the 1918 influenza epidemic, which occurred about a century ago, the U.S. has not experienced such a spike in mortality rates. Ariel Karlinsky(opens in new tab) — who researches excess mortality and economics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and started the World Mortality Dataset(opens in new tab) with colleague Dmitry Kobak(opens in new tab), who studies COVID-19 excess mortality at Tübingen University in Germany — has been investigating just how much excess mortality there has been worldwide since the pandemic struck. He discovered that COVID fatalities peaked in January 2020 and 2021.
Glatter is worried about the potential consequences of a “tripledemic” of the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 that occurs in the winter. To protect themselves from COVID-19, RSV, and the flu, he advised wearing a mask, particularly in enclosed areas with little air. And as winter draws near, he had some added words of wisdom.
If you haven’t had a COVID-19 boosting injection yet, get one right away, he advised. And remember to wash your hands after coming in touch with sick or coughing individuals. In the long term, all of these precautions could save lives.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on November 2 at 9 p.m. EDT to indicate that the recent rise in RSV cases may also have a negative impact on this winter’s health.