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Epidemiology

Study: Maryland Forensic Autopsies Conducted in June Found 10 Percent of Decedents Had SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies  

A new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 10 percent of those who underwent forensic postmortem examinations in Maryland in June 2020 had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The findings, published online December 15 in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, were higher than expected and higher than what was reported in any geographic area outside of NYC in June. 
 
The study is believed to be the first published estimate of SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in Maryland. Seroprevalence studies estimate the proportion of persons in a population who have detectable antibodies in their blood. Seroprevalence data provide information on the spread of infection in a community. 
 
“This study is significant because it includes people who may not otherwise be captured in seroprevalence studies,” says lead author Keri Althoff, associate professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “We may expand our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 spread by incorporating antibody testing in decedents.”  
 
Maryland law requires individuals who die in motor vehicle crashes, from homicide, suicide, or drug overdose, and people who die suddenly or unexpectedly, or without a physician who could sign their death certificate (including homeless individuals) to undergo forensic postmortem examination by the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. 
 
For the study, the researchers measured antibodies in 500 decedents examined from May 24 to June 30 by the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner who had viable blood samples for testing. Of these, 50 were found to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies present. The study found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were more prevalent among Hispanic decedents, which is reflective of what was seen among the Baltimore area Hispanic population in June.  
 
The study also found that individuals who died in motor vehicle accidents had the same proportion with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies as those in the study who were determined to die of natural causes. “If forthcoming seroprevalence estimates from the general living population are similar, those who die in motor vehicle accidents may be a unique sentinel population for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” says Althoff.  

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Media contact: Jon Eichberger, je@jhu.edu