In December 2018, Rebecca Cunningham and colleagues from the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center published an update on the major causes of death in children in the United States (Cunningham RM, Walton MA, Carter PA. “The Major Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States,” New Engl J Med. 2018 Dec 20;379(25):2468-2475).

Looking specifically at the year 2016, researchers found that 20,360 of deaths had occurred among children in the United States. About 60 percent of those deaths were caused by injuries, among which 20 percent were caused by motor vehicle accidents and 15 percent by firearms.

The third leading cause of death among children was malignant cancers, which accounted for 9 percent of total deaths.

The fourth leading cause was suffocation, accounting for 7 percent of the total; suffocation was caused by bed linens, plastic bags, hanging, or strangulation.

The remaining six leading causes of death accounted for less than 25 percent of the total. Of interest, infectious diseases weren’t on the list. This is in stark contrast to 1900, where the leading causes of death for the entire United States population were pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhea; 40 percent of those deaths occurred in children less than 5 years of age. This dramatic decline is the result of purified drinking water, antibiotics, and, most importantly, vaccines. Indeed, as more vaccines become available, the number of deaths in children caused by infectious diseases will only continue to decline.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

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