A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH

The birth and death rates in Jackson County climbed last year to levels not seen in at least 30 years.

There were 805 babies born this past year and 436 deaths, according to the Jackson County Health Department’s 2014 report. Both are the highest numbers recorded since at least 1981.

The second-highest number of twins (12 sets) were born last year. In 2004, 15 sets of twins were born, according to the report.

While there is no hard evidence for the increase in births this past year, one health official speculates the higher number could be attributed to the harsh winter of 2013-14, because it kept people indoors.

It also could be attributed to a higher number of obstetrics and gynecology services available in Jackson County than in the past, another said.

As for the increase in deaths, health officials said the number may be linked to the aging population or a spike in lung cancer cases. Cancer in general was the No. 1 cause of death last year in the county, according to the health report.

The lowest number of deaths since 1981 was in 1984 with 283, and the lowest number of births was in 1987 with 542, according to the report.

Birth rates

In 2012, there were 718 births, 87 fewer than 2014. In 2013, there were 773 births, 32 fewer than last year. During the past nine years, an average of 700 births were reported.

Lisa Eagans, director of women and children at Schneck Medical Center, said nurses at the Seymour hospital noticed the uptick in babies born this past year.

“We budget for an average of 65 births per month,” Eagans said. “We exceeded that average six of the 12 months last year.”

In December, there were 94 births; and on Dec. 29 alone, 10 babies were born, the highest number for any 24-hour period in 2014.

“It was crazy,” Eagans said. “The nurses have worked hard.”

Though there’s no evidence or research behind the increase, she said more women could have become pregnant because of the extreme winter last year. In September, about nine months after the last snow had melted away, there were 82 births.

Eagans said the obstetrics staff had to work a lot of overtime but performed well. She said 67 percent of the registered nurses are certified in maternal newborn nursing, obstetric nursing or lactation.

With the increase of births during the past two years, Eagans said, the hospital is looking at more staffing to better accommodate the need.

“(The hospital) is growing and producing quality outcomes along with this growth,” she said. “It’s a very exciting future for Schneck and our community.”

County Health Officer Dr. Kenneth Bobb said the growth of the hospital — offering services to not only Jackson County residents but those in surrounding communities — could be a reason why so many more babies are being born here.

He also said the spike in births is a result of the expansion of specialty services in Jackson County.

“Years ago, we didn’t have an OB/GYN specialty in the medical field. Family doctors did everything back then,” he said.

Today, Bobb said, there are five obstetrics and gynecology doctors available in Jackson County.

“It’s just grown,” Bobb said. “Gradually, specialty people came to the community and started delivering babies. More OB doctors means more babies delivered.”

Death rates

Some health officials attributed the increase in deaths to the county’s aging population. There were 39 more deaths (436) reported this past year than in 2013 (397).

“People get older; and the more older people we have, the more deaths,” Bobb said.

Cancer looks to be the top reason for an increase in deaths, with 86 deaths from cancer in 2014.

“As population ages, the risk of cancer increases; and if not caught early, it often becomes a late-stage disease that cannot be cured,” said Sally Acton, director of cancer and pain services at Schneck Medical Center.

She said there has been an increase in cases of lung cancer, which often are caught only at a late stage.

In 2013, it was the No. 1 type of cancer diagnosed at the hospital, beating breast cancer for the first time since cancer records have been kept locally.

All of the lung cancer cases — 45 in 2013 — were linked to smoking.

“I have seen (statistics) from the state sites that observed 26 percent of our adults smoke in Jackson County, which of course is one huge factor increasing the lung cancer rate,” Acton said.

Cancer will continue to be one of the top causes for death until it’s determined what causes many of the cancers and there’s better tumor-specific treatments offered, she added.

Great strides have been made over the years, however, particularly with the use of adjuvant chemotherapy, she said. This is when people are given chemotherapy, even though it appears all the cancer has been removed surgically, because doctors don’tknow if hidden cells remain in the body.

“The survival of many cancers has greatly exceeded that in previous years; however, there is much work to be done,” Acton said.

To reduce the number of deaths from cancer, Acton said screenings are valuable in order to catch the disease early.

She encouraged people to talk to their family doctor about what screenings are recommended.

“If you are a smoker or ex-smoker, we have CT lung screening to help catch that cancer early,” she said. “We have screenings as well throughout the year for prostate cancer, skin cancer, breast and cervical cancer and oral cancer.”

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and Acton said colonoscopies can prevent and catch that type of cancer at an early stage.

“If you stop by the Endoscopy Center just inside the front doors of Schneck Medical Center, you can receive a free ColoCare take-home test to determine if there is blood in your stool,” she said. “This test does not replace the colonoscopy but is a simple test to screen for colon cancer.”

Other tips to reduce cancer risk include:

Not smoking and staying out of secondhand smoking areas.

Eating healthy meals that include fruits and vegetables.

Exercising to promote a healthy weight.

Utilizing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure, including tanning beds.

Other causes of death in Jackson County included 75 people who died from heart disease/myocardial infractions and 54 who died as a result of respiratory/pulmonary problems.

Pneumonia, stroke/cerebral hemorrhage, sepsis, renal failure, Alzheimer’s disease and accidents were among other causes of death, according to the report. In total, there were 53 different causes.

By the numbers

Birth rates

2014 — 805 (438 males, 367 females, 12 twins)

2013 — 773 (387 males, 386 females, 9 twins)

2012 — 718 (353 males, 365 females, 8 twins)

2011 — 676 (351 males, 325 females, 10 twins)

2010 — 728 (379 males, 349 females, 5 twins)

2009 — 650 (329 males, 321 females, 6 twins)

Death rates

2014 — 436 (210 males, 226 females; 56 were over 90 years old, four were over 100 and two were under 14)

2013 — 397 (208 males, 189 females)

2012 — 416 (209 males, 207 females)

2011 — 405 (196 males, 209 females)

2010 — 392 (192 males, 200 females)

2009 — 362 (189 males, 173 females)

Source: Jackson County Health Department

At a glance

Most frequent causes of death in 2014 in Jackson County:

Cancer (86 deaths)

Heart disease/myocardial infarctions (75)

Respiratory/pulmonary (54)

Pneumonia (26)

Stroke/cerebral hemorrhage (24)

Sepsis (21)

Renal failure (20)

Alzheimer’s/senile dementia (19)

Accidents (17)

Source: Jackson County Health Department.

Note: There were 43 other causes of deaths listed on the health report.