COVID-19 autopsies: severe lung damage

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A study by the Augsburg University Hospital recently showed that the lung tissue of deceased COVID-19 patients is irreversibly damaged.

Virus is the cause, not ventilation

A study by the Augsburg University Hospital recently showed that the lung tissue of deceased COVID-19 patients is irreversibly damaged.

The cause of the damage was SARS-CoV-2, 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 ultimately led to the death of the sick.

Autopsies show: massive lung damage as a cause of death

The infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus runs in the majority of cases as a complication-less illness of the upper respiratory tract, especially the throat. However, some of the patients develop pneumonia, which in a small number 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 a total of 19 post-mortem autopsies on deceased patients with COVID-19 since April 4, 2020. Thanks to careful information from the relatives, an autopsy rate of almost 90% of the deaths was achieved in Augsburg, which allowed the doctors to give an unbiased assessment. The results of the first ten autopsies have now been published in the renowned journal Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“During the examinations, we were still able to detect the genetic makeup of the virus in the respiratory system of the deceased,” explained Dr. Schaller, senior senior physician and first author of the study. The lung tissue itself consistently showed unusually severe, sometimes presumably irreversible, damage. The medical team sees this change as the cause of death, since it massively affects the oxygen uptake by the lungs to supply the organs.

Corona virus as the cause of lung damage

“The most important finding from the first analysis is that the lung damage described is obviously not a complication of ventilation. Rather, regardless of this intensive medical measure, it is most likely to result directly from the viral damage. All patients suffered from serious underlying diseases, which, however, did not directly Death led, ”added 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.

No apparently severe changes could be detected in the other organs. The pronounced lung damage caused by SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to the effects of SARS and MERS diseases.


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