Forensic investigations generally contain extensive morphological examinations to accurately diagnose the cause of death. Thus, the appearance of a new disease often creates emerging challenges in morphological examinations due to the lack of available data from autopsy- or biopsy-based research. Since late December 2019, an outbreak of a novel seventh coronavirus disease has been reported in China caused by "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2). On March 11, 2020, the new clinical condition COVID-19 (Corona-Virus-Disease-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Patients with COVID-19 mainly have a mild disease course, but severe disease onset might result in death due to proceeded lung injury with massive alveolar damage and progressive respiratory failure. However, the detailed mechanisms that cause organ injury still remain unclear. We investigated the morphological findings of a COVID-19 patient who died during self-isolation. Pathologic examination revealed massive bilateral alveolar damage, indicating early-phase "acute respiratory distress syndrome" (ARDS). This case emphasizes the possibility of a rapid severe disease onset in previously mild clinical condition and highlights the necessity of a complete autopsy to gain a better understanding of the pathophysiological changes in SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Diffuse alveolar damage; Forensic autopsy.