J Clin Med. 2020 Apr 26 ;9(5). Epub 2020 Apr 26. PMID: 32357503
COVID-19 Deaths: Are We Sure It Is Pneumonia? Please, Autopsy, Autopsy, Autopsy!
The current outbreak of COVID-19 severe respiratory disease, which started in Wuhan, China, is an ongoing challenge, and a major threat to public health that requires surveillance, prompt diagnosis, and research efforts to understand this emergent pathogen and to develop an effective response. Due to the scientific community's efforts, there is an increasing body of published studies describing the virus' biology, its transmission and diagnosis, its clinical features, its radiological findings, and the development of candidate therapeutics and vaccines. Despite the decline in postmortem examination rate, autopsy remains the gold standard to determine why and how death happens. Defining the pathophysiology of death is not only limited to forensic considerations; it may also provide useful clinical and epidemiologic insights. Selective approaches to postmortem diagnosis, such as limited postmortem sampling over full autopsy, can also be useful in the control of disease outbreaks and provide valuable knowledge for managing appropriate control measures. In this scenario, we strongly recommend performing full autopsies on patients who died with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection, particularly in the presence of several comorbidities. Only by working with a complete set of histological samples obtained through autopsy can one ascertain the exact cause(s) of death, optimize clinical management, and assist clinicians in pointing out a timely and effective treatment to reduce mortality. Death can teach us not only about the disease, it might also help with its prevention and, above all, treatment.