Use of post-mortem chest computed tomography in Covid-19 pneumonia

Forensic Sci Int. 2021 Aug;325:110851. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2021.110851. Epub 2021 May 27.


Background and aim: COVID-19 is an extremely challenging disease, both from a clinical and forensic point of view, and performing autopsies of COVID-19 deceased requires adequately equipped sectorial rooms and exposes health professionals to the risk of contagion. Among one of the categories that are most affected by SARS-Cov-2 infection are the elderly residents. Despite the need for prompt diagnoses, which are essential to implement all isolation measures necessary to contain the infection spread, deceased subjects in long-term care facilities are still are often diagnosed post-mortem. In this context, our study focuses on the use of post-mortem computed tomography for the diagnosis of COVID-19 infection, in conjunction with post-mortem swabs. The aim of this study was to assess the usefulness of post-mortem whole CT-scanning in identifying COVID-19 pneumonia as a cause of death, by comparing chest CT-findings of confirmed COVID-19 fatalities to control cases.

Materials and methods: The study included 24 deceased subjects: 13 subjects coming from long-term care facility and 11 subjects died at home. Whole body CT scans were performed within 48 h from death in all subjects to evaluate the presence and distribution of pulmonary abnormalities typical of COVID-19-pneumonia, including: ground-glass opacities (GGO), consolidation, and pleural effusion to confirm the post-mortem diagnosis.

Results: Whole-body CT scans was feasible and allowed a complete diagnosis in all subjects. In 9 (69%) of the 13 cases from long-term care facility the cause of death was severe COVID 19 pneumonia, while GGO were present in 100% of the study population.

Conclusion: In the context of rapidly escalating COVID-19 outbreaks, given that laboratory tests for the novel coronavirus is time-consuming and can be falsely negative, the post-mortem CT can be considered as a reliable and safe modality to confirm COVID-19 pneumonia. This is especially true for specific postmortem chest CT-findings that are rather characteristic of COVID-19 fatalities.

Keywords: Autopsy; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Pneumonia; Post mortem changes; Post mortem computed tomography.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy / methods
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleural Effusion / diagnostic imaging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Whole Body Imaging