Pathologists are eager to quickly conduct autopsies on as many COVID-19 victims as possible.

They aim to determine who is at greatest risk from the virus and what damage it causes inside the body. Initial results are already available.

There are very few people out there who are as occupied with COVID-19 as Hans Bösmüller in the southern German city of Tübingen – both professionally and in private life. He was one of the first people in the country to contract the disease. Cheesecake suddenly tasted like soap, as did coffee, and he developed an aching neck. He also suffered from both a cough and a fever. Then, the symptoms disappeared. His immune system was successfully able to fight off the novel coronavirus…..

The pathologists hope that four weeks from now, they will have found initial answers to some of the most important questions: Why do so many infected people experience no symptoms? Why do others fall critically ill? What does the timeline of the illness look like? Aside from the lungs, what other organs are affected? What are the best therapies and preventative measures?…..

In and around the city of Basel, they have performed more than 20 autopsies on the bodies of people who succumbed to COVID-19. In Germany, by contrast, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s primary public health institute, initially issued a warning against such procedures, cautioning on March 24 that the bodies could be contagious….

“The dead teach us lessons for life,” Püschel says. It was “totally obvious” to him from the very beginning that it was necessary to perform autopsies on the bodies of people who had died from COVID-19…..

When they were still alive, every single one of these people carried around a huge number of viruses inside them, as do we all. There are up to a billion viruses in our intestines alone – per gram of content. A lot of viruses are also found in our respiratory tracts as well. A study of 26 households in Utah found that each year, adults experience an average of six viral respiratory tract infections. Many of them are completely free of perceptible symptoms….

Far from being killers, these viruses are helpful pests that train our immune systems. Now, the novel coronavirus has been added to the mix…..

Those suffering from lifestyle diseases, by contrast, are much more vulnerable to the virus, according to data from the Basel region. Pathologists there have performed autopsies on 21 COVID-19 victims with an average age of 76 – with the range stretching from 53 to 96…..

None of them were healthy at the time they became infected with the virus. “All of the cases had pre-existing conditions and most of them had several,” says Alexandar Tzankov, a pathologist from the University of Basel. Among the conditions discovered by the doctor were hypertension, severe atherosclerosis, enlarged heart, obesity and diabetes…..

“They all had in common that they suffered from severe malfunction of their blood vessels,” Tzankov says…..

“Every Single Case”

“Age by itself isn’t an illness. Older people are more likely to suffer from illnesses, but the extent of pre-existing conditions is relevant,” Püschel says…..

“We have seen that intensive care is more difficult for the obese,” he says, “and when it comes to chronic pulmonary disease, smokers tend to be more affected.”

He says that there are a number of people among the deceased who were between the ages of 50 and 60. “They weren’t well-conditioned athletes, but people who were severely overweight,” he says, adding that they were also suffering from arteriosclerosis, a common condition among the obese…..

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