A postmortem portrait of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: A large multi-institutional autopsy survey study

Jody E. Hooper, Robert F. Padera, Marisa Dolhnikoff, Luiz Fernando Ferraz da Silva, Amaro Nunes Duarte-Neto, Meghan E. Kapp, J. Matthew Lacy, Thais Mauad, Paulo Hilario Nascimento Saldiva, Amy V. Rapkiewicz, Dwayne A. Wolf, Juan C. Felix, Paul Benson, Elisheva Shanes, Kara L. Gawelek, Desiree A. Marshall, Michelle M. McDonald, William Muller, David S. Priemer, Isaac H. SolomonTaylor Zak, Meenakshi B. Bhattacharjee, Lucy Fu, Andrea R. Gilbert, Holly L. Harper, Silvio Litovsky, Jon Lomasney, Sharon L. Mount, Stephanie Reilly, Miroslav Sekulic, Thora S. Steffensen, Kirsten J. Threlkeld, Bihong Zhao, Alex K. Williamson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Context.—This study represents the largest compilation to date of clinical and postmortem data from decedents with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It will augment previously published small series of autopsy case reports, refine clinicopathologic considerations, and improve the accuracy of future vital statistical reporting. Objective.—To accurately reflect the preexisting diseases and pathologic conditions of decedents with SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) infection through autopsy. Design.—Comprehensive data from 135 autopsy evaluations of COVID-19–positive decedents is presented, including histologic assessment. Postmortem examinations were performed by 36 pathologists at 19 medical centers or forensic institutions in the United States and Brazil. Data from each autopsy were collected through the online submission of multiple-choice and open-ended survey responses. Results.—Patients dying of or with COVID-19 had an average of 8.89 pathologic conditions documented at autopsy, spanning a combination of prior chronic disease and acute conditions acquired during hospitalization. Virtually all decedents were cited as having more than 1 preexisting condition, encompassing an average of 2.88 such diseases each. Clinical conditions during terminal hospitalization were cited 395 times for the 135 autopsied decedents and predominantly encompassed acute failure of multiple organ systems and/or impaired coagulation. Myocarditis was rarely cited. Conclusions.—Cause-of-death statements in both autopsy reports and death certificates may not encompass the severity or spectrum of comorbid conditions in those dying of or with COVID-19. If supported by additional research, this finding may have implications for public health decisions and reporting moving forward through the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-535
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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