SARS-CoV-2 spread to endocrine organs is associated with obesity: an autopsy study of COVID-19 cases

Endocrine. 2024 Jan;83(1):110-117. doi: 10.1007/s12020-023-03518-0. Epub 2023 Sep 12.


Purpose: SARS-CoV-2 infection may be limited to the respiratory tract or may spread to multiple organs. Besides disease severity, factors associated with virus spread within the host are elusive. Here, we tried to identify features associated with SARS-CoV-2 spread to endocrine organs.

Methods: In a retrospective autoptic cohort of 51 subjects who died because of COVID-19, we analyzed the severity and type of lung pathology, patients' features and the detection of virus in thyroid, testis, adrenal gland, pancreas, anterior pituitary, and the white adipose tissue (WAT).

Results: The SARS-CoV-2 genome was detected in endocrine organs of 30/51 cases. The anterior pituitary and WAT were most frequently positive for virus. While pathological features of lung were not associated with the presence of virus in endocrine organs, obesity (BMI > 30) was significantly associated to virus detection in pancreas (p = 0.01) and thyroid (p = 0.04). WAT infection was detected more frequently in males (p = 0.03).

Conclusion: In subject with obesity dying of COVID-19, the virus frequently spreads to endocrine organs. The findings emphasize the need for optimal treatment of patients with obesity at the very onset of COVID-19. Since post-COVID conditions remain a major issue worldwide, a rigorous follow-up of endocrine function-especially of thyroid and pancreas-is advocated in subjects with obesity.

Keywords: COVID-19; Endocrine; Obesity; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • COVID-19* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2