AIDS falls from Top Ten Causes of Death; Teen Births, Infant Mortality, Homicide All Decline

For Release: Wednesday, October 7, 1998

Contact: Sandra Smith, NCHS Press Office, (301) 458-4800. E-mail:

Births and Deaths: Preliminary Data for 1997. Vol. 47, No. 4. 42pp. (PHS) 99-1120 pdf icon[PDF – 244 KB]

Reporting an unprecedented decline in AIDS deaths, as well as a new low for infant mortality and continued declines in teen births and the homicide rate, HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today released preliminary vital statistics for the Nation in 1997.

Age-adjusted death rates from HIV infection in the U.S. declined an unprecedented 47 percent from 1996 to 1997, and HIV infection fell from 8th to 14th among leading causes of death in the U.S. over the same time. For those aged 25-44, HIV dropped from the leading cause of death in 1995 to third-leading in 1996 and now fifth-leading in 1997. The age-adjusted HIV death rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 is the lowest rate since 1987, the first year mortality data were available for the disease. The 1997 rate is less than half the 1992 rate (12.6) and almost one-third the rate in 1995 (15.6).

The overall infant mortality rate reached a new low of 7.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The teen birth rate also fell an estimated 3 percent in 1997, continuing a 6-year trend. And the preliminary age-adjusted homicide rate fell 12 percent in 1997.

In addition, life expectancy reached a record high of 76.5 years for those born in 1997.

The data come from a new report, “Births and Deaths: United States, 1997,” prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report features preliminary data collected through the National Vital Statistics System from over 90 percent of all birth and death records. The information on causes of death is recorded on death certificates by physicians, medical examiners, and coroners, and reported to the states.

Shalala said the decline in AIDS deaths is primarily due to the continuing impact of highly active antiretroviral therapy in helping people with HIV live longer and healthier lives. At the same time, she emphasized that success in treating those with HIV does not mean the Nation can relax its efforts to prevent HIV transmission.

“Today’s report is very good news for the Nation, and the tremendous decline in AIDS deaths is particularly striking. These figures mean that new treatments have been very effective in extending the lives of people who already have HIV infection — but they do not mean that we have significantly reduced HIV transmission,” Shalala said. “We are working to see that people with AIDS get access to the dramatic new therapies that are available. Even more important, however, is our continuing task of preventing new cases of HIV. Our ultimate goal is to prevent the estimated 40,000 new HIV infections that occur each year.” According to CDC, other available data suggests that, while death rates are improving dramatically, the annual number of new HIV infections in the U.S. have not declined in recent years, and the total number of people living with HIV is still increasing.

From 1991-97, birth rates to non-Hispanic white teens and black teens have dropped steeply: 16 percent and 23 percent respectively.

“Reducing teen pregnancy and teen birth rates is a major national goal of ours, so this trend is very encouraging,” said Shalala. “It is the result of a lot of very hard work at the Federal, State, and grass roots level. But we can’t afford to stop our efforts now — too many teenagers are still jeopardizing their futures.”

Timely prenatal care also reached record levels in 1997 as an estimated 82.5 percent of women received care in their first trimester of pregnancy. Meanwhile, the birth rate among first-time mothers dropped to a record low in 1997.

The new report also includes other, less positive findings, including:

  • Little or no change in the number and percent of births to unmarried women in 1997.
  • A slight increase in the percent of cesarean deliveries, up to 20.8 percent of all deliveries, suggesting a leveling off of the downward trend of recent years.
  • An increase in the percent of low birthweight babies (less than 2,500 grams). Low birthweight babies account for 7.5 percent of all births, compared to 7.4 percent in 1996. This increase was confined to non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women. Low birthweight remained unchanged for births to black women.


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