Alaskans are unusually likely to die in boating or airplane accidents. Accidental shootings kill more people in Tennessee than elsewhere, whereas syphilis is the most unique cause of death in Louisiana.
This is the takeaway from a new Centers for Disease Control map published Thursday, which charts the most unique cause of death in all 50 states. To be clear: this is not the most common cause of death. The above causes of death represent, at most, 1.8 percent of all deaths in a given state. What they do show is what type of deaths are more likely to happen in one state than another. There were only, for example, 22 syphilis deaths in Louisiana — but that still makes it more prevalent there than anywhere else in the country.
Some of them make sense, like the high number of boat and air accidents in Alaska or the lung disease deaths in coal-mining states like West Virginia and Kentucky. Others are a bit more baffling — why is septicemia, a blood infection, turning up more in New Jersey, or "inflammatory diseases of the female pelvic organs" happening at higher rates in New York? This map does not have answers.
The CDC has one thought, however: it might just be that the data is really bad. Studies find that death certificates often have inaccuracies, and that could matter when dealing with relatively rare diseases:
Most death certificates are completed by community physicians who receive little or no formal training in this area. For example, a study found that nearly half of the death certificates certified by physicians in a suburban Florida county contained major errors, often reflecting confusion between the underlying cause of death and the terminal mechanism of death (6). It would not take many systematic miscodes involving an unusual cause of death for it to appear on this type of map.
That's one caveat to keep in mind when looking at the types of deaths that appear to be most unique in your state.