Deaths more common in winter

Australians are more likely to die in the winter than in the summer months, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Seasonality of Death, measured patterns of death to see how deaths vary by day, by month and by season, and whether these patterns have changed over time.

The report, using latest data, shows there were 128,000 deaths per year (an average of 351 a day) in Australia.

Deaths occurred more frequently during the winter months than in summer. Australia averaged 400 deaths per day during August; in February there were 316 deaths a day.

The very young and the very old are especially vulnerable in winter, with diseases of the circulatory system, pneumonia, influenza and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome most commonly occurring in July and August.

However, deaths among people aged 25-44 peak in September and October each year, and the most common causes of deaths among young adults-such as those from motor vehicle accidents, suicide, drowning and assault-are more likely to occur in warmer months.

Overall, deaths in Australia occur most frequently on Friday or Saturday. However, heart attacks and suicide deaths predominately occur on Monday, with motor vehicle accident deaths on the weekend.

Report author, Michael de Looper, said that the patterns of death have changed dramatically over time.

'In the last 20 years we've seen the same pattern where deaths peak in August and trough in February, varying by about 30% or more between low and high months,' Mr de Looper said.

'This pattern is quite regular, despite factors such as Australia's comparatively mild climate and year-to-year variations in temperature.

'But excess winter deaths have not always been the case-the nineteenth century saw a higher number of summer deaths.

'This disappeared with the decline of infectious and parasitic diseases, and the rise of circulatory and respiratory diseases which are more likely to cause death during colder months.'

15 November 2002


Further information: Mr Michael de Looper, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1137, or 0407 915 851 (mobile).
Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1145
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032