Study of SARS-CoV-2 reveals new disease surveillance method

By Lynn McCain | September 4 2020

In a broadly collaborative effort, Pathology faculty Drs. Carl Schmidt, Jeffrey Myers, Kristine Konopka, Paul Lephart, and Teresa Nguyen joined Michigan Medicine faculty from the departments of Epidemiology, Internal Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, Mathematics and Complex Systems, and the School of Public Health in a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases entitled “SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in decedents in a large, urban medical examiner’s office.”

Nasopharyngeal swabs from 1094 decedents in the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office were tested for SARS-CoV-2 and assessed by a COVID-19 checklist. Decedents flagged by the checklist (298) were preferentially tested. A random sample of decedents not flagged by the checklist were also tested (796). 

This study found that the pattern of positivity among the decedents closely tracked the positivity rate in the surrounding community, or catchment area. They also found that a disproportionate number of Sars-CoV-2-positive decedents were black, older, and died of natural causes, including COVID-19.

These findings indicate that testing of decedents could be used as early warning signs for community outbreaks, enabling targeted interventions.

Dr. Jeffrey Myers stated, “…our interdisciplinary multisite forensics program makes us better by expanding the people, talent, and resources critical to accessing these unique opportunities for discovery of consequence to public health.  This is another example of how our forensics and autopsy services benefit the living while caring for the dead with compassion and respect.”