Postmortem Swabs in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Pandemic

Marco Dell’Aquila, Paola Cattani, Massimo Fantoni, Simona Marchetti, Isabella Aquila, Egidio Stigliano, Arnaldo Carbone, Antonio Oliva, Vincenzo Arena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Context.—Clinical autopsies have historically provided a fundamental contribution in the definition of the clinicopathologic basis of infectious diseases. Even though we are witnessing the decline of the clinical autopsy, its importance remains unchanged as it is the most exhaustive way to investigate diseases. The identification of the virus in postmortem tissues is a fundamental step in the definition of its clinical features. Objective.—To investigate the presence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in postmortem examination with swabs. Design.—We performed postmortem swabs in 12 autopsy cases of patients with a clinical diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2–related pneumonia. Our protocol consisted of a rhinopharyngeal and a tracheal swab in order to search for the virus in the upper airways, and of 2 swabs on the parenchyma of each lung. We also performed a fifth swab on the parenchyma of both lungs in order to search for other viruses that could evolve in a clinical picture of interstitial pneumonia. Results.—Overall, we found 9 of 12 cases had at least 1 postmortem swab positive for SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, we evaluated the time between the antemortem and postmortem swabs, the time between death and the postmortem swabs, and the time between the postmortem swabs and acceptance to the microbiology laboratory. Of note, we did not find a relationship between the results of the swabs and either the time elapsed from their collection or the time elapsed before their acceptance in the microbiology laboratory. Conclusions.—A thorough knowledge of the eventual persistence of pathogens in deaths related to infectious diseases is fundamental for the safety of the operators during the autopsy practice, especially when referring to emergent pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2. Our study highlights the importance in performing multiple swabs in the postmortem examination, because SARS-CoV-2 swab positivity can be limited to only a single swab.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1298-1302
Number of pages5
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Volume144
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology

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