• Print

The death rate from asthma in Australia has fallen by almost 70% since the 1980s, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report on asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Mortality from asthma and COPD in Australia, says that while the United States and the United Kingdom report similar asthma mortality rates to Australia for people aged 5-34, rates are lower in Poland, Italy, Japan, Germany and France.

AIHW's Australian Centre for Airways disease Monitoring (ACAM) spokesperson Professor Guy Marks says that the asthma mortality rate in Australia has fluctuated over the last century, with peaks observed in the late 1950s, mid-1960s and late 1980s.

'In recent years, the asthma mortality rate has declined substantially, but remains relatively high on an international scale at 1.5 per 100,000 population,' Professor Marks said.

The report examines asthma and COPD mortality trends over time, seasonal variation, and variation by age, sex, remoteness, Indigenous status, country of birth and socioeconomic disadvantage.

Professor Marks said that while asthma and COPD were both chronic lung diseases, COPD mainly affected older people, while asthma affected people of all ages.

In Australia in 2011, asthma was the underlying cause of 378 deaths, or 0.3% of all deaths in Australia. In the same year, COPD was the underlying cause of 5,767 deaths among people aged 55 and over (102 per 100,000 people aged 55 and over), or 4.4% of all deaths in that age group.

'Our report also shows that COPD is a leading cause of death in Australia and internationally, and many deaths due to both asthma and COPD are potentially preventable,' Professor Marks said.

According to the report, death rates due to asthma increase with age in both males and females, but and are higher in women than men for those aged 35 and over. Deaths due to asthma peak in late winter for those aged 65 and over.

While death rates from COPD among males aged 55 and over approximately halved between 1979 and 2011, among females they increased between 1979 and 1997 before starting to fall.

Professor Marks said COPD death rates among males were almost double those among females and were lowest in late summer and, like deaths due to asthma, usually highest in the late winter months.

'Deaths due to asthma and COPD are higher among Australians from English-speaking countries of birth, Indigenous Australians, people living in remote parts of Australia and people living in areas of greatest socioeconomic disadvantage,' Professor Marks said.

Canberra, 13 August 2014

Further information: Professor Guy Marks, AIHW ACAM, tel. 0419 251 565 or Helen Reddel, tel. (02) 9114 0437, mob. 0412 360 205

Full publication: Mortality from asthma and COPD in Australia