How does the coronavirus measure up against the world’s top causes of death?

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As the new coronavirus spreads and worldwide deaths linked to it top 3,400, global alarm is growing and has caused everything from consumer runs on face masks to mass school closures.

Yet while few would deny the outbreak's official status as an international health emergency, in the ranking of top causes of death it pales into insignificance compared to heart disease, cancer, road accidents, suicide or homicide.

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A few figures:

Top killers

The top killers are cardiovascular diseases (CVD), everything from hypertension to strokes. They were to blame for 17.8 million deaths in 2017, roughly a third of the 56 million total deaths recorded that year.

Cancers also loom large, accounting in total for 9.6 million deaths. Respiratory diseases and infections together claimed 6.5 million lives.

Dementia, digestive disease and diabetes all take heavy tolls. And despite recent progress, HIV/AIDS claimed some 942,000 lives in 2017 and malaria 620,000. Seasonal influenza epidemics kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year, the World Health Organization says.

Risk factors

Viewed by risk factor, high blood pressure was linked to 10.4 million deaths in 2017; smoking to 7.1 million; high blood sugar to 6.53 million; air pollution to 4.9 million; and obesity to 4.7 million.

Everyday life presents other risks. Road injuries proved fatal for 1.24 million people in 2017 – 3,400 a day.

Suicide is another big cause. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, or one person every 40 seconds, the WHO estimates. It cites evidence that for each adult who died by suicide, more than 20 others may have attempted it.

There is also violence. About 464,000 people across the world were killed in homicides in 2017, surpassing by far the 89,000 killed in armed conflicts in the same period, according to the Global Study on Homicide 2019 published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

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