One reason I’m glad I’ve lived when I have

Death rates per 1 million people.  Source: CDC

Death rates per 1 million Americans.   Click to enlarge.  Source: CDC

I came across the top chart when I was looking for something else.  It reminded of my childhood in the 1940s, when it was common for children to be laid up with measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and other “childhood diseases.”  I was lucky.  The only one I got was measles.  I also was lucky in that these diseases were rarely fatal, which was not the case everywhere, either then or now.

The chart shows the death rate from infectious diseases starting to creep back up a little after 1980.  I couldn’t find charts of infectious disease death rates in the 21st century, but my guess is that the death rate has continued to rise, because of natural selection producing disease germs that resist antibiotics and because of new forms of infectious disease such as AIDS.  This doesn’t mean that progress is an illusion, only that it requires a continuing effort.

I still feel lucky to have lived when I have.


Click to enlarge.   Source: New England Journal of Medicine

One reason for the lowering of the American death rate during the last century is that public health has been regarded as a public responsibility.  If availability of vaccination and sanitation had been limited to those who could afford to pay for it, the improvements shown on these charts would not have taken place.  It also is a fact that the big breakthroughs in medicine, such as Alexander Fleming’s discovery that penicillin is an antibiotic or Jonas Salk’s development of the Salk vaccine for polio,  came from researchers working in the public sector.

Hat tip for the top chart to Ezra Klein.

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One Response to “One reason I’m glad I’ve lived when I have”

  1. Atticus Says:

    It is pretty amazing that a lot of major diseases are wiped out or kept in check. I’ve never had chicken pox, measles, or any of the major diseases you hear about plaguing people in the past. Kind of interesting.


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