Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Milder Winter Brought Less Death

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Milder Winter Brought Less Death

Article excerpt

Here's an upside to the mild, snowless winter that disappointed plow drivers, rock salt sellers, skiers and schoolchildren:

Fewer of us died.

Data from the state Center for Health Statistics show that 17,331 New Jersey residents died in January-March 2012, compared with 19,304 in January-March 2011, when the region was gripped in cold and knee-deep in snow.

The numbers could trickle up as the state continues to learn of residents who died outside of New Jersey, said Donna Leusner, director of communications for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

But the wide disparity in the death count between the two winters points to what funeral directors, who are usually busiest in the winter, know all too well: More people die when it's cold outside.

That shouldn't come as a surprise.

Winter often brings reports of people suffering heart attacks while shoveling snow or breaking bones slipping on ice. Those misfortunes can turn deadly, particularly among the elderly and infirm.

But this past winter -- the warmest on record hereabouts -- there was no snow to shovel and no ice to fall on.

The winter before, in contrast, we were snowed under, beginning with the blizzard of Dec. 26, 2010.

Dr. Randy Tartacoff, director of the emergency department at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, offered an additional theory why 2,000 fewer New Jerseyans died this past winter than the one before.

"You can't really prove it, but what ends up happening in winter is everyone stays indoors, they close their windows, and you have more intimate, close contact that can lead to the spread of infection," he said.

One possible result, he noted, is pneumonia, a significant cause of mortality among the elderly.

But this past winter, many of us opened the windows to let the air in. There were 18 days when the mercury topped 60 degrees; on average, we have five such days per winter.

Tellingly, Holy Name's emergency department saw about 10 percent fewer patients last winter than the winter before, Tartacoff said.

The mortality data for January, in particular, bolsters the weather argument: 6,131 New Jerseyans died in the benign January of 2012, compared with 7,001 in the brutal January of 2011 -- the snowiest January in more than 60 years. …

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