Detection and infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 in exhumated corpses

  • Postmortem detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) after the exhumation of a corpse can become important, e.g. in the case of subsequent medical malpractice allegations. To date, data on possible detection periods [e.g. by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)] or on the potential infectivity of the virus after an exhumation are rare. In the present study, these parameters were examined in two cases with a time span of approximately 4 months between day of death and exhumation. Using SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR on swabs of both lungs and the oropharynx detection was possible with cycle threshold (Ct) values of about 30 despite signs of beginning decay. RT-PCR testing of perioral and perinasal swabs and swabs collected from the inside of the body bag, taken to estimate the risk of infection of those involved in the exhumation, was negative. Cell culture-based infectivity testing was negative for both, lung and oropharyngeal swabs. In one case, RT-PCR testing at the day of death of an oropharyngeal swab showed almost identical Ct values as postmortem testing of an oropharyngeal swab, impressively demonstrating the stability of viral RNA in the intact corpse. However, favorable climatic conditions in the grave have to be taken into account, as it was wintertime with constant low temperatures. Nevertheless, it was possible to demonstrate successful postmortem detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection following exhumation even after months in an earth grave.

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Author:Stefanie PlenzigORCiDGND, Franziska HolzGND, Denisa BojkovaORCiDGND, Mattias KettnerORCiDGND, Jindrich CinatlORCiDGND, Marcel A. VerhoffORCiDGND, Christoph Gerhard BirngruberORCiDGND, Sandra CiesekORCiDGND, Holger RabenauORCiDGND
Parent Title (English):International journal of legal medicine
Publisher:Springer ; HeinOnline
Place of publication:Berlin ; Heidelberg ; Getzville, NY
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2021/07/24
Date of first Publication:2021/07/24
Publishing Institution:Universit├Ątsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2023/08/03
Tag:Autopsy; COVID-19; Cell culture; RT-PCR-detection
Page Number:6
First Page:2531
Last Page:2536
Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY - Namensnennung 4.0 International