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Case report
Undetectable SARS-CoV-2 in a nasopharyngeal swab but persistent viral RNA from deep lung swabs: findings from an autopsy
  1. Prema Seetulsingh1,
  2. Chiranthi Iresha Kannangara1 and
  3. Paul Richman2
  1. 1Department of Medical Microbiology, Watford General Hospital, Watford, UK
  2. 2Department of Histopathology, Watford General Hospital, Watford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Chiranthi Iresha Kannangara; chiranthi.kannangara{at}


During the global pandemic of COVID-19 accurate diagnosis of the infection by demonstrating SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA by PCR in specimens is crucial for therapeutic and preventative interventions. There have been instances where nasal and throat swabs have been negative despite the patient having typical clinical and radiological findings compatible with the disease. We report a case of a man in his late 50s, brought to the hospital following a cardiac arrest and prolonged unsuccessful resuscitation. The history was typical for COVID-19 with fever for 10 days and worsening shortness of breath. His throat and nasal swabs (after death) were negative for SARS-CoV-2. A limited diagnostic autopsy was performed after 27 days, and lung swabs confirmed presence of SARS-CoV-2. This case highlights the importance of lung swabs when initial upper respiratory tract swabs are negative and proves that the virus can be detected from dead human tissue almost a month later.

  • infections
  • pathology

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  • Contributors PS, CIK and PR equally contributed to the conception and design of the article; contributed to the design of the case report; contributed to the acquisition and analysis of the data; contributed to the interpretation of the data; and drafted the manuscript. All authors critically revised the manuscript, agree to be fully accountable for ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the work, and read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Next of kin consent obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.