The number of deaths by incidents increased in 2018 for the first time in four years, as deaths caused by suicides and notifiable infectious diseases jumped significantly, government data showed.
That of deaths by influenza, in particular, shot up to more than 450 last year. The designation of hepatitis C as a notifiable infectious disease also contributed to the rise of the deaths by legal communicable diseases.
According to the 2019 Regional Safety Index, released by the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the number of deaths caused by accidents recorded 31,111, or 10.4 percent of the entire deaths, in Korea. The deaths by accidents are calculated by combining the number of deaths by external causes other than disease-induced or natural deaths with that of deaths caused by legal infectious diseases.
The number of deaths by accidents decreased from 31,582 in 2015 to 29,545 in 2017. However, the figure went up to 31,111 in 2018.
The surge in the deaths by suicide and notifiable infectious diseases drove up the number of accident deaths last year. The number of deaths by suicide shrank to 12,463 in 2017 but rebounded to 13,670 in 2018, adding 1,207 deaths in one year.
As of 2018, the number of suicide deaths per 100,000 Korean people was 26.6, more than double that of the OECD average of 12.7.
The deaths by infectious diseases also went up by 680 from 2,391 in 2017 to 3,071 in 2018. During the period, deaths by influenza rapidly climbed by 458 from 262 to 720. The deaths by hepatitis C infection totaled 152 in number.
The number of deaths from infectious diseases in Korea was higher than the OECD average. As of 2018, the number of deaths from contagious diseases per 100,000 people in Korea was 5.1, versus the OECD average at 3.1.
However, experts said statistics on influenza-induced deaths were inaccurate and that it was difficult to tell the number of flue deaths surged particularly last year.
Professor Lee Jae-gap at the Infectious Disease Department of Hallym University Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital said Korea did not have accurate statistics on deaths by influenza.
“If a patient has influenza but dies of pneumonia, the death is recorded as death caused by pneumonia,” Lee said. “Including indirect deaths, I presume that about 1,200-1,500 Korean people die of influenza every year. The interior and safety ministry’s data was smaller than expected.”
It was true that influenza was more infectious in 2018 than in 2017, but deaths did not increase rapidly last year, Lee went on to say. “It is hard to say the deaths by influenza tripled last year compared to 2017,” he added.