COVID-19 deceased: Autopsies show severe lung damage

COVID-19 deceased: Autopsies show severe lung damage

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Lung damage: important information about the cause of death of corona patients

The majority of people who have contracted the COVID-19 pathogen, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, show only mild symptoms. But for some patients, the disease can also take a severe course and lead to death. A new study has now shown that severe lung damage is often the cause of the death of the sick.

Researchers from Germany and the United States recently reported that COVID-19 damages the lungs differently than influenza. The extent to which the lungs are damaged in many corona patients has now also been shown by autopsies of COVID-19 deceased.

Massively impaired oxygen intake in the lungs

As the University of Augsburg writes in a current communication, a study by the Augsburg University Hospital shows that the lung tissue of COVID-19 deceased is irreversibly damaged.

The cause of the damage was the coronavirus, the genetic makeup of which could still be detected in the respiratory tract.

Lung damage from mechanical ventilation was largely excluded as the cause, since more than half of the patients were not artificially ventilated.

The massively impaired oxygen intake of the lungs finally led to the death of the sick, according to the experts.

The study results were recently published in the renowned journal "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA).

Almost all of the deceased were autopsied

In most cases, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection is a minor complication of the upper respiratory tract, especially the pharynx.

However, some of the infected develop pneumonia, which in a small proportion of cases is so severe that artificial ventilation is required. Despite all intensive medical measures, patients die from this disease.

An interdisciplinary team of doctors around the Augsburg pathologist Dr. Tina Schaller has performed 19 autopsies on deceased patients with COVID-19 since April 4 this year.

Thanks to careful information from the relatives, an autopsy rate of almost 90 percent of the deaths was achieved in Augsburg, which allowed the doctors to give an unbiased assessment.

DNA of the virus detected in the respiratory system

"During the examinations, we were still able to detect the genetic makeup of the virus in the respiratory system of the deceased," explains Dr. Schaller, senior senior physician and first author of the study.

According to the information, the lung tissue itself consistently showed unusually severe, sometimes presumably irreversible, damage.

The medical team sees this change as the cause of death because it massively affects the oxygen uptake by the lungs to supply the organs.

Comparable to the effects of SARS and MERS diseases

"The most important finding from the first analysis is that the lung damage described is obviously not a complication of ventilation," said Prof. Dr. Bruno Märkl, Director of the Institute for Pathology and Molecular Diagnostics at the University Hospital Augsburg and holder of the Chair for General and Special Pathology at the Medical Faculty of the University of Augsburg.

"Rather, regardless of this intensive medical measure, they are most likely to arise directly from the viral damage. All patients suffered from serious underlying diseases, which, however, did not lead to immediate death, ”explains the doctor.

According to the notification, no apparently serious changes could be detected in the other organs.

The pronounced lung damage caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is comparable to the effects of SARS and MERS diseases. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University of Augsburg: COVID-19 in Augsburg: Autopsies show severe lung damage, (accessed: May 24, 2020), University of Augsburg
  • Dr. med. Tina Schaller, Dr. Klaus Hirschbühl, Dr. Katrin Burkhardt, Dr. Georg Braun, Prof. Martin Trepel, Prof. Bruno Märkl, PD Dr. Rainer Claus: Postmortem Examination of Patients With COVID-19; in: Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), (published: 21.05.2020), Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

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