Autopsy of COVID-19 patient in Bengaluru shows virus active even 18 hrs after death

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The first autopsy conducted on a victim of coronavirus in Bengaluru, which is reportedly the first to be done in India, has revealed that the virus is active even 18 hours after death. Reports said the clinical autopsy was done after a 62-year-old patient in Bengaluru died after two weeks of treatment. 

Reports quoted forensic expert Dinesh Rao, who heads the Department of Forensic Medicine in Oxford Medical College and Research Institute, as saying that the virus samples were taken from the deceased’s nose, throat and mouth, lung surface, respiratory passages, face and neck. An RT-PCR test, which is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, showed that the nose and throat samples tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Dr Rao said he took up the autopsy to understand how the disease affects the human body and to evaluate if there was a need to update the treatment protocol of patients. He said in the case of the 62-year-old patient, the lungs were majorly affected by bacterial infections. With the effect of the virus, Dr Rao said the patient’s lungs had turned leathery and gained in weight significantly. While lungs normally weigh around 700 grams, for the victim it weighed more than 2.1 kg and had turned into a leather ball which otherwise should be like a rubber balloon. Dr Rao added that the deceased’s lungs had blood clots and the air sacs were damaged, which meant that the patient needed thrombolytic therapy before being put on a ventilator.

The Hindu quoted Dr Rao as saying that there was need for greater research to understand how the disease affects the human body and accordingly treatment protocols should be modified rather than following WHO guidelines alone. He further added that he did not get much cooperation from others for this autopsy process and there were other tests that he wanted to conduct to understand the effects of the disease better.

Speaking to The Times of India, Dr Rao said his findings were unique compared to the findings of autopsies done on COVID-19 patients in the US and Italy, suggesting that the strains of the virus are different. He said that the lungs turning inconsistent and leathery was contrary to the usual effects of acute respiratory distress.

The autopsy was done with the consent of the patient's family and all of his kin were in home isolation at that time. Dr Rao said that he wants to publish his findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.