Clinical characteristics and histopathology of COVID-19 related deaths in South African adults

PLoS One. 2022 Jan 20;17(1):e0262179. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262179. eCollection 2022.


Comparisons of histopathological features and microbiological findings between decedents with respiratory symptoms due to SARS-CoV-2 infection or other causes, in settings with high prevalence of HIV and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) infections have not been reported. Deaths associated with a positive ante-mortem SARS-CoV-2 PCR test and/or respiratory disease symptoms at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa from 15th April to 2nd November 2020, during the first wave of the South African COVID-19 epidemic, were investigated. Deceased adult patients had post-mortem minimally-invasive tissue sampling (MITS) performed to investigate for SARS-CoV-2 infection and molecular detection of putative pathogens on blood and lung samples, and histopathology examination of lung, liver and heart tissue. During the study period MITS were done in patients displaying symptoms of respiratory disease including 75 COVID-19-related deaths (COVID+) and 42 non-COVID-19-related deaths (COVID-). The prevalence of HIV-infection was lower in COVID+ (27%) than in the COVID- (64%), MTB detection was also less common among COVID+ (3% vs 13%). Lung histopathology findings showed differences between COVID+ and COVID- in the severity of the morphological appearance of Type-II pneumocytes, alveolar injury and repair initiated by SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the liver necrotising granulomatous inflammation was more common among COVID+. No differences were found in heart analyses. The prevalence of bacterial co-infections was higher in COVID+. Most indicators of respiratory distress syndrome were undifferentiated between COVID+ and COVID- except for Type-II pneumocytes. HIV or MTB infection does not appear in these data to have a meaningful correspondence with COVID-related deaths.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alveolar Epithelial Cells / pathology*
  • Autopsy
  • Biopsy, Large-Core Needle / methods
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / mortality*
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Testing / methods
  • Comorbidity
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology*
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • South Africa / epidemiology