Spain registers an excess mortality of more than 21,000 people this summer

A thermometer marks 40 degrees in Bilbao. / Ainhoa ​​Gorriz

The Carlos III Institute attributes 4,721 deaths to high temperatures since June, four times more than last year

Alvaro Soto

The summer of 2022 will go down in history for its enormous excess mortality. Spain has registered 21,173 more deaths than expected, according to data from the Daily Mortality Monitoring Report (MoMo), prepared by the Carlos III Health Institute, under the Ministry of Health. In total, 135,108 people have died from June 1 to September 14 (last published update), the highest figure since records are available, well above even the pandemic summers, when 116,524 deaths were recorded (2021) and 112,137 (2020). Now, Spain has reported 28% more deaths than the average of the years prior to the appearance of covid-19: then some 105,000 deaths were reported during the summer months. The heat waves that have shaken the country explain part of the deaths, but far from all, experts warn.

Specifically, MoMo computes 4,721 deaths attributable to high temperatures. The 42 days of heat waves, with cities and autonomous communities breaking temperature records, have pushed deaths from this cause four times above the records of the previous year: deaths attributed to heat were 1,298 in 2021, below the previous years (1,888 in 2020 and 2,103 in 2019). Since 2015, deaths linked to high temperatures have stood, on average, at 1,836.

During the first (and early) heat wave, between June 12 and 18, the MoMo estimated 362 deaths attributable to high temperatures. In the second, which lasted throughout July, the authors calculated 1,885 deaths. And in the third, during the first half of August, deaths attributed to heat were 1,274. But throughout the summer, also in September, deaths related to high temperatures have been recorded.

Excess mortality has not been computed only in Spain. In July alone, the European Union registered 53,000 deaths above expectations, 16% more. “Part of the increase in mortality in July 2022, compared to the same month in the last two years, may be due to the heat waves that have affected parts of Europe during the reference period,” Eurostat stressed yesterday, the European Statistical Office.

“Climate change kills and our lives are at stake. The number of deaths related to temperatures could multiply by up to three in the coming years," said Julio Díaz, a member of the Reference Unit for Climate Change, Health and the Urban Environment of the Carlos III Institute, during the Annual Meeting of the Society Spanish Epidemiology, held in San Sebastian. "The last seven years have been the hottest ever recorded and 2022 is on track to be the eighth," warned the specialist.

But Public Health experts believe that the large number of deaths recorded this summer has many causes, although they are not clear and it is necessary to wait for the data to be consolidated to determine them. "For several months we will not really know what has happened," explains Joan Carles March, professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health. Even so, March points to two other factors: “On the one hand, covid-19 continues to kill, especially among the elderly and very vulnerable. But in addition, the saturation caused by the pandemic in the health system, with special emphasis on Primary Care, prevented the diagnosis of other diseases whose consequences, fatal in many cases, we may be seeing now.

"Primary Care did not get where it had to go and online consultations, which at many times have been the only source of contact between patients and health professionals, make it difficult to diagnose certain health problems," stresses March, who values the announced creation of the State Public Health Agency. "It will serve to improve the investigation of the causes of mortality to allow action on them."

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