CHICAGO - A respiratory illness that strikes the elderly knocked homicide off the list of the top killers in the United States for the first time in 45 years in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
In its annual report on US mortality, the CDC said a condition known as pneumonitis had replaced murder as a leading cause of death in the country.
The drop in deaths by homicides was expected. Last month, the FBI released a preliminary report on US crime rates for 2010 that showed a 7.1 per cent drop in murder between January and June, part of a wider drop in violent crime despite the country's ongoing economic troubles.
The drop in murder rates -- and a corresponding rise in pneumonitis -- forced homicide off the government's annual list of top 15 killers for the first time since the mid-1960s. Murder was relegated to 16th place in 2010 with 16,065 killings.
Average life expectancy in the United States rose slightly in 2010, to 78.7 years from 78.6 in 2009, the CDC said. In order to reach that age, Americans had to dodge a litany of potential killers, top among them heart disease and cancer.
Of the more than 2.4 million deaths the health agency studied, the top 15 killers in 2010 were:
1. Heart disease (595,444 deaths)
2. Malignant neoplasms (573,855)
3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (137,789)
4. Cerebrovascular diseases (129,180)
5. Accidents (118.043)
6. Alzheimer's disease (83,308)
7. Diabetes (68,905)
8. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (50,472)
9. Influenza and pneumonia (50,003)
10 Suicide (37,793)
11. Septicemia (34,843)
12. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (31,802)
13. Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease (26,577)
14. Parkinson's disease (21,963)
15. Pneumonitis due to solids of liquids (17,001)
Age-adjusted death rates for nine of the 15 leading killers, including influenza and pneumonia, septicemia and cancer, fell in 2010, the CDC said. But age-adjusted death rates for six, including Parkinson's disease and pneumonitis, rose.
Age-adjustment accounts for the impact of rising life over time.
Infant mortality fell 3.9 per cent in 2010 to 6.14 infant deaths per 1,000 births from 6.39 deaths per 1,000 births in 2009.