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New map shows most distinct causes of death by state

By Marilyn Malara

ATLANTA, May 16 (UPI) -- The CDC has published a color-coded map outlining the most "distinctive" causes of death for each of the 50 U.S. states.

While the most common killers nationally are heart disease and cancer, the map shows what study authors call a "more nuanced view of mortality variation" within the United States. The research team started with 113 causes of death and then used a ratio to divide the mortality rates in each state by those of the whole country.

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The map is "a somewhat of a colorful and provocative way of starting some conversations and highlighting some unusual things that are going on," study co-author Francis Boscoe from the New York State Cancer Registry told Live Science.

The CDC has published a map outlining the "most distinctive" causes of death for every state. Among them are HIV in Florida, accidental gunfire in Tennessee and Alabama, and the flu in Maine, North Dakota and Wyoming. Francis P. Boscoe/CDC

The variety of distinct causes of mortality range from HIV to the flu, and the numbers can be surprising. About 15,000 people have died from HIV in Florida, but only 22 have died from the most distinctive cause in Louisiana -- syphilis. The study shows that the most distinctive causes for many states are rare. Fewer than 100 people have died by the highlighted causes listed for 22 states.

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"If something is almost nonexistent everywhere in the country, but there's a handful of them in one state, then that could show up," Boscoe told Live Science about the anomaly. But the issue could also lie in how healthcare professionals do their paperwork.

The map is meant to act as a "robust conversation starter" to help public health professionals, particularly those who may not use standard cause-of-death certification methods, to keep a closer eye on how they fill out forms when someone dies. Being aware of different practices between states could help promote a more uniform way of documenting deaths and thus a more accurate map in the future.

"Simply being aware of the issue often is enough to cause the change... it can often be a simple fix," Boscoe said.

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