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Covid-19 is the fourth most common underlying cause for registered deaths in Ireland so far this year

The CSO published an analysis of data on the underlying causes of death, including Covid-19, from January to October 2020.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock/RossHelen

COVID-19 HAS BEEN listed as the fourth most common underlying cause for registered deaths in Ireland in the first 10 months of this year.

In a new update from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), based on deaths registered with the General Registrar’s Office, it said that a total of 22,416 deaths were registered from 1 January 2020 to 31 October 2020 across the country. 

The most common underlying causes of death cited were cancer (7,269 deaths), diseases of the circulatory system/heart (5,886) and diseases of the respiratory system/lungs (2,390). 

Between them, the top three listed above were identified in just under 70% of reported deaths in Ireland so far this year.

Covid-19 accounted for 1,462 of the registered deaths, or 6.5%. 

However, according to Department of Health figures, the number of deaths in people with Covid-19 is far higher. The death toll stands now at 2,022. At the end of October, it was 1,915.

In addressing this discrepancy between the figures, the CSO said: “It is important to note that there will be a number of deaths where Covid-19 will not be assigned as the [underlying cause of death] and therefore, the Covid-19 deaths in this analysis, will vary from those put into the public domain by the Department of Health.

A Covid-19 death is defined, for surveillance purposes, as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness in a probable or confirmed Covid-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to Covid-19 (e.g. trauma). There should be no period of complete recovery between the illness and death.
Legally, in Ireland, a death can be registered up to three months after the date of occurrence and therefore not all deaths that took place between 01 January 2020 and 31 October 2020 are included in this. The CSO estimates that approximately 2,500 to 3,500 deaths remain to be registered covering the period of analysis in this output.

Ireland has been counting Covid-19 deaths on foot of advice from the World Health Organization, which issued guidance on the matter earlier this year. The CSO said that the hierarchy in which the causes of death are written on a death certificate will impact on what it assigns to be the underlying cause of death for the purposes of this data. 

The guidelines note there is “increasing evidence that people with existing chronic conditions or compromised immune systems due to disability are at higher risk of death due to Covid-19″.

The document adds that if the person who died had a non-communicable disease such as coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or diabetes, this should also be reported on their death certificate.

The Department of Health has said that, in following the WHO’s guidance, it has “sought to provide the fullest and most accurate picture possible of the impact of Covid-19″.

It has also noted in the past that in those who died with Covid-19 who already had underlying conditions, “may have continued to live for a long time if they had not contracted it”.

“It is important to note that a third of people in Ireland (32%) have a long-standing health condition,” a department spokesperson said. “This is a significant part of our society. Every single person with an underlying medical condition is important. Their lives matter.”

The CSO said today that, by age group, 8.1% of deaths among those aged 80 or over listed Covid-19 as an underlying cause of death. 

This was in fifth place behind diseases of the circulatory system, cancer, diseases of the respiratory system and mental and behavioural disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Among other age groups, Covid-19 was cited as an underlying cause in 5.4% of deaths in people aged 65-79, 3.3% in people aged 50-64 and 2.1% in people aged 25-49.

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The CSO added that deaths attributed to external causes of injury and poisoning – such as car accidents – are under-represented in the analysis as such deaths are frequently reported to the Coroner’s Office for further investigation. These deaths may be reported later as a result and aren’t included in CSO stats.

Under the heading of injury and poisoning, 295 deaths have been recorded this year. 

With reporting from Órla Ryan

About the author:

Sean Murray

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