Autopsies provide clear proof of COVID-19 deaths - Australian Associated Press
A woman who died due to COVID infection is taken along a corridor
Autopsies around the world have repeatedly shown people have died from COVID-19 infections. Image by EPA

Autopsies provide clear proof of COVID-19 deaths

AAP FactCheck October 26, 2021
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

No autopsy has proven COVID-19 as the cause of death.

OUR VERDICT

False. COVID-19 has been determined as the primary cause of death in multiple autopsies around the world.

A Facebook video claims that no autopsy has proven COVID-19 caused the patient’s death, offering $1 million to anybody who can find one that does.

But pathology experts told AAP FactCheck the claim is demonstrably false as many autopsies have determined COVID-19 as the subject’s primary cause of death.

In the video, Jamie McIntyre, an Australian who has previously shared COVID-related misinformation on multiple occasions (see here, here, here, here and here), claims: “I’ll pay a million dollars for a single autopsy to prove that a single person has died of COVID because here is clearly what I’m saying: no one has died of COVID. COVID does not exist. One million dollars, not for five million autopsies, for a single autopsy that can clinically, independently prove a person has died of COVID.” (video mark 6 min 47 secs)

Linda Iles, head of forensic pathology services at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, said she has personally conducted autopsies where there “is no doubt that these patients have died from COVID 19”.

“In our institution we’ve conducted autopsies that confirm deaths from COVID-19, with and without comorbidities, during Victoria’s second and third waves,” she told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Dr Iles said the results of those autopsies can be split into three categories: death from COVID-19; death from COVID-19 and pre-existing morbidities; and cases where COVID-19 was coincidental to death.

In the first category, the cause of death was “straightforward” as the only pathological changes were due to SARS-CoV 2 infection, she said. Most commonly, this consisted of diffuse alveolar damage in the lung.

But when a patient has pre-existing conditions, establishing whether a death is “from” or “with” COVID-19 can be more difficult.

Dr Iles said it wasn’t always possible to measure the degrees to which a person’s comorbidities and COVID-19 contributed to their death, although comorbidities normally made a patient more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus.

Professor Roger Byard, the George Richard Marks Chair of Pathology at the University of Adelaide and a senior forensic pathologist at Forensic Science SA, said the claim in the video is “simply not true”.

“If an individual has been quite well and has developed progressively severe respiratory symptoms and signs and tests positive for COVID prior to dying, then it is very probable that their death was due to COVID,” he said in an email.

Prof Byard told AAP FactCheck there were “numerous publications in peer-reviewed media on autopsy findings in deaths due to COVID infection – it is difficult to understand why this was not found”.

“It would appear to me that the author of the video owes a million dollars to a very large number of pathologists and medical frontline workers worldwide,” he said.

Entering the search term “COVID autopsy” into Pubmed, the United States National Library of Medicine database at the National Institutes of Health, returns more than 850 studies related to COVID-19 and autopsies, many from early in the pandemic.

Among them is a case report, published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, about the autopsy of a 50-year-old man who died from COVID-19 in China in January 2020, a US study on the autopsy of a 77-year-old man who died from COVID-19 in March 2020, and an Italian study into the autopsies of 22 COVID-19 patients, four of whom “were healthy prior to hospital admission and had no known medical comorbidities”.

A June 2020 study details autopsies from 80 COVID-related deaths in the German state of Hamburg. It found 57 of the 80 deaths were “definite” COVID-19 deaths, while four were attributed to other causes. The remainder were either “probable” or “possible” COVID-19 deaths.

One of the study co-authors, Professor Jan-Peter Sperhake from University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, told AAP FactCheck: “Of course we can prove that people are dying from COVID-19.”

“We have autopsied a great many people who have died from the disease … the problem is that conspiracy theorists do not accept scientific evidence,” he said in an email.

Prof Sperhake has previously argued that autopsies have been underused with COVID-19 victims – possibly due to concerns that corpses may be contagious – but told AAP FactCheck they “are now much more common and accepted than they were at the beginning of the pandemic”.

The Verdict

The claim that no autopsy has proven people have died from COVID-19 is false. SARS-CoV-2 infection has been determined as the primary cause of death in numerous documented autopsies around the world. Experts also told AAP FactCheck they had personally conducted autopsies on COVID-19 patients that showed the disease led to their deaths.

False – The content has no basis in fact.

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