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Reaction: mortality increased by 20 % in the summer months of 2022 compared to 2019 due to heat, among other causes

From May to August 2022, 157,580 deaths were recorded, 20.5% more than in the same months of 2019, before covid. This increase in mortality was mainly among people aged 75 years and older. Of the causes of death directly related to the heat, heat stroke and dehydration stood out. These are some of the provisional data published by the National Statistics Institute (INE) in relation to deaths in 2022. Covid-19 was the most frequent cause of death, with 31,559 people dying, 20% less than in 2021.

28/06/2023 - 11:00 CEST
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Óscar Zurriaga - INE mortalidad EN

Óscar Zurriaga

Epidemiologist, researcher at the Department of Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Food Sciences, Toxicology and Legal Medicine, University of Valencia and president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology.

Science Media Centre Spain

It is very good news that, for the first time, the National Statistics Institute (INE) is publishing provisional data on deaths by cause of death for the full year that has just ended, with only a six-month lag. It is also true that the advance for the first half of the year 2022 had already been published a few months ago, also for the first time. 

This brings to the public's attention the enormous and invisible work carried out in the autonomous communities, together with the INE, in the coding and registration of causes of death, which provides information that is of great help in public health surveillance and health planning. It is also an incentive to continue improving in this line, definitively incorporating the electronic death certificate, something that must be done in coordination with the health services of the autonomous communities, which would allow these times to be reduced even further, gaining in timeliness and possibilities for health action. 

Provisional data for 2022 still show a year in which mortality was higher than in the pre-pandemic period and in which the increase in deaths that occurred at the beginning of the summer of 2022 is clearly visible. Now, if we can examine the causes assigned to these deaths, it can be seen that this increase in deaths was distributed among a set of groups of causes that are among those that produce the highest morbidity and mortality in Spain, to which covid-19 was added. In other words, it seems that what happened in the summer of 2022 was the conjunction of an episode of high temperatures, sustained for several weeks, and a wave of covid-19, which triggered deaths from different causes (respiratory diseases, senile and pre-senile mental disorders, Alzheimer's disease, hypertensive diseases or diabetes), in addition to those directly caused by covid-19. 

For the third year in a row, covid-19 remained the most frequent cause of death, although 20 % fewer people died from it than in 2021. This did not prevent the disease groups with the highest mortality from continuing to be diseases of the circulatory system, tumours and diseases of the respiratory system. 

In these data now made public by the INE, mention is also made of the number of people who ended their lives by euthanasia in Spain in 2022, which was 260 (in 2021, the year in which the law came into force, there were 59), with the most frequent causes, among the people who were euthanised, being amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. This makes it possible to finally provide data on something that has been a demand from Spanish society. 

The disparity between autonomous communities in terms of excess mortality with respect to 2019 in certain causes is also striking: the INE highlights in its press release that the increase in deaths due to hypertensive diseases in the Region of Murcia was 93.9%, or in Galicia 116.2% in diabetes. These are data that need to be analysed in greater detail.

Conflict of interest: Oscar Zurriaga's declaration of interests is available here.

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