Complete post-mortem data in a fatal case of COVID-19: clinical, radiological and pathological correlations

Int J Legal Med. 2020 Nov;134(6):2209-2214. doi: 10.1007/s00414-020-02390-1. Epub 2020 Aug 6.


A 75-year-old man presented to a French hospital with a 4-day fever after returning from a coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) cluster region. A reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction test was positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS CoV-2) using a nasopharyngeal swab sample. After he returned home and a telephone follow-up, he was found deceased 9 days after first showing symptoms. Whole-body, non-enhanced, post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) and a forensic autopsy were performed approximately 48 h after death, with sanitary precautions. The PMCT showed bilateral and diffuse crazy-paving lung opacities, with bilateral pleural effusions. Post-mortem virology studies detected the presence of SARS-CoV-2 (B.1 lineage) in the nasopharynx, plasma, lung biopsies, pleural effusion and faeces confirming the persistence of viral ribonucleic acid 48 h after death. Microscopic examination showed that severe lung damage was responsible for his death. The main abnormality was diffuse alveolar damage, associated with different stages of inflammation and fibrosis. This case is one of the first to describe complete post-mortem data for a COVID-19 death and highlights the ability of PMCT to detect severe involvement of the lungs before autopsy in an apparently natural death. The present pathology results are concordant with previously reported findings and reinforce the disease pathogenesis hypothesis of combined viral replication with an inappropriate immune response.

Keywords: Autopsy; COVID-19; Pathology; Post-mortem; Post-mortem computed tomography; SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Autopsy
  • Betacoronavirus / pathogenicity*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Fibrin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleural Effusion / pathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Fibrin