The spectrum of histopathologic findings in lungs of patients with fatal coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) infection

Anja C. Roden, Melanie C. Bois, Tucker F. Johnson, Marie Christine Aubry, Mariam P. Alexander, Catherine E. Hagen, Peter T. Lin, Reade A. Quinton, Joseph J. Maleszewski, Jennifer M. Boland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Context.-Respiratory failure appears to be the ultimate mechanism of death in most patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection. Studies of postmortem COVID-19 lungs largely report diffuse alveolar damage and capillary fibrin thrombi, but we have also observed other patterns. Objective.-To report demographic and radiographic features along with macroscopic, microscopic, and microbiologic postmortem lung findings in patients with COVID- 19 infections. Design.-Patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection and postmortem examination (March 2020-May 2020) were included. Clinical findings were abstracted from medical records. Lungs were microscopically reviewed independently by 4 thoracic pathologists. Imaging studies were reviewed by a thoracic radiologist. Results.-Eight patients (7 men, 87.5%; median age, 79 years; range, 69-96 years) died within a median of 17 days (range, 6-100 days) from onset of symptoms. The median lung weight was 1220 g (range, 960-1760 g); consolidations were found in 5 patients (62.5%) and gross thromboemboli were noted in 1 patient (12.5%). Histologically, all patients had acute bronchopneumonia; 6 patients (75%) also had diffuse alveolar damage. Two patients (25%) had aspiration pneumonia in addition. Thromboemboli, usually scattered and rare, were identified in 5 patients (62.5%) in small vessels and in 2 of these patients also in pulmonary arteries. Four patients (50%) had perivascular chronic inflammation. Postmortem bacterial lung cultures were positive in 4 patients (50%). Imaging studies (available in 4 patients) were typical (n 2, 50%), indeterminate (n 1, 25%), or negative (n 1, 25%) for COVID-19 infection. Conclusions.-Our study shows that patients infected with COVID-19 not only have diffuse alveolar damage but also commonly have acute bronchopneumonia and aspiration pneumonia. These findings are important for management of these patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medical Laboratory Technology


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