Record of Mortality - Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, April 1900.
Featured in this collage is a table from 122 years ago in the precursor journal to the New England Journal of Medicine. The Record of Mortality covers the week ending at Saturday, March 31st 1900 and details a list of causes of death from a variety of U.S. cities at the time. There is obviously some incomplete reporting since I find it hard to believe that nobody in Chicago, IL managed to pass away that week.
An obvious trend here is the mortality from infectious diseases. If you look at the numbers for New York City (population ~3.6mil at the time), of the 1,626 deaths, almost a third were children younger than 5 years old (yikes!). According to their numbers, infectious disease appears to be the identified cause in almost 20% of those deaths and included some diseases we rarely see in the modern era, including diphtheria (background bacteria in this collage) and measles.
Data like this makes up reason #5,398 that I’m glad to be living in the modern era. According to the CDC data from 2019 (pre-Covid), the leading causes of death were heart disease (~23.1%) and cancer (21.0%). The only infectious category to break the top-10 was “Influenza and Pneumonia” at 1.7% of all deaths. That low percentage of infectious disease induced mortality was completely upended in 2020 when COVID-19 was recorded as the third leading cause of death for people in the US.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Infectious diseases have literally plagued humankind for the duration of our existence. This little excursion into the ol’ journals is a ready reminder of this.
For more on diphtheria check out Episode 19 of the Poor Historians Podcast. Subscribe for more tidbits on our trek through medical history.
[Doctor with mustache]