COVID third biggest killer

COVID was the third leading cause of death in Australia last year, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

Nearly 10,000 Australians died from COVID last year, the first time in more than 50 years that an infectious disease has been in the top five killers.  

The ABS’ Causes of Death data for 2022 shows that the Australian age-standardised death rate increased to 547.6 deaths per 100,000 population last year, compared to 507.2 per 100,000 population in 2021. 

COVID was the third leading cause of death in Australia, and this was the first time that an infectious disease appeared in the top-five leading causes of death since Influenza and pneumonia was ranked 5th in 1970.  

Heart disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer rounded out the top five leading causes. 

The data also revealed that Australian’s life expectancy has fallen by 0.1 years in the 2020-2022 period of the pandemic, with a boy born today expected to live to 81.2 years and a girl to 85.3 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 

“Australia has recorded the first decline in life expectancy since the early 1990s. This is the first time that deaths across all three years of the COVID pandemic have been used in calculating life expectancy,” ABS head of demography Miss Beidar Cho said. 

“The first two years of the pandemic had the two lowest mortality rates on record from all causes, however in 2022 the number of deaths increased by 20,000, with close to 10,000 of these being due to COVID. 

“Yet even with a relatively large increase in the number of deaths, the effect on life expectancy was small as over half of all COVID deaths in 2022 were of people aged 80 years and over.” 

Ischaemic heart disease was the leading cause of death in 2022, accounting for 9.8% of all deaths, yet for the first time since official cause of death statistics began collection in 1968, ischaemic heart disease accounted for less than 10.0% of all deaths. 

Additionally, suicide was the 15th leading cause of death, with a median age of 45.6. Some 377 West Australians took their own lives last year, a trend that has taken nearly 4,000 lives over the last decade, but the suicide rate decreased in WA between 2021 and 2022.  

For males in 2022: 

  • There were 2,455 deaths due to suicide. 
  • Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death. 
  • The median age at death for those who died by suicide was 46.0 years.  
  • Over three-quarters (75.6%) of people who died by suicide were male. 
  • The suicide rate for males increased by 2.6% from 2021. 

For females in 2022: 

  • There were 794 deaths due to suicide. 
  • Suicide was the 26th leading cause of death.  
  • The median age at death for those who died by suicide was 44.1 years.  
  • The suicide rate for females decreased by 2.3% from 2021. 

As part of the investigative process for a suicide, risk factors are often mentioned in these reports. For suicide, a risk factor could be one of many factors including mental health conditions, lifestyle factors, or chronic diseases that can interact and increase the “risk” of suicide. While a risk factor may have been present in the life of a person who died by suicide it may not have been a direct cause. 

The risk factors more commonly seen in older age groups, such as pain and limitation of activities due to chronic health conditions, were not as common in younger age groups, and similarly, problems related to employment and unemployment were most common in the working age population (defined as 15-64 years).  

In terms of suicide there was also a 9.1% increase in the alcohol-induced death rate compared to 2021. 

Closer to home, the ABS data showed that 1,513 Western Australians lost their lives due to an injury in 2022, a 5% increase from 2021. 

The leading causes of injury-related fatality included falls (526), intentional self-harm (377), transport injuries (218) and poisoning (196).