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medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.07.12.21260357


Confronted with an emerging infectious disease, the medical community faced relevant concerns regarding the performance of autopsies of COVID-19 deceased at the beginning of the pandemic. This attitude has changed, and autopsies are now recognized as indispensable tools for elucidating COVID-19; despite this, the true risk of infection for autopsy staff is still debated. To elucidate the rate of SARS-CoV-2 contamination in personal protective equipment (PPE), swabs were taken at nine locations of the PPE of one physician and an assistant each from 11 full autopsies performed at four different centers. Further samples were obtained for three minimally invasive autopsies (MIA) conducted at a fifth center. Lung/bronchus swabs of the deceased served as positive controls. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected by RT-qPCR. In 9/11 full autopsies PPE samples were tested RNA positive with PCR, in total 21% of all PPE samples taken. The main contaminated parts of the PPE were the gloves (64% positive), the aprons (50% positive), and the upper sides of shoes (36% positive) while for example the fronts of safety goggles were only positive in 4.5% of the samples and all face masks were negative. In MIA, viral RNA was observed in one sample from a glove, but not in other swabs. Infectious virus isolation in cell culture was performed in RNA positive swabs from full autopsies. Of all RNA positive PPE samples, 21% of the glove samples were positive for infectious virus taken in 3/11 full autopsies. In conclusion, in >80% of autopsies, PPE was contaminated with viral RNA. In >25% of autopsies, PPE was found to be even contaminated with infectious virus, signifying a potential risk of infection among autopsy staff. Adequate PPE and hygiene measures, including appropriate waste deposition, are therefore mandatory to enable safe work environment.