Do They Test for Infection in an Autopsy?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Ask the experts

When doing an autopsy, is it possible to test for infection (urinary tract infection, sepsis)?

Doctor's response

Yes, signs of infection are generally apparent during observation of the internal organs both with the naked eye and on microscopic slides of tissue samples. Large collections of pus, such as abscesses, may be seen. While it often is possible to detect if an infection is present, microscopic analysis and/or cultures of blood and body fluids are required to determine exactly which organism is responsible for the infection. Cultures of blood, which would reveal the presence of an infection in the blood stream (sepsis) are routinely done in many hospital autopsy services. Additionally, cultures to identify infectious organisms usually are performed if there is an area of the body that is suspicious for infection.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Investigations and Autopsies"
Public Health Law Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Reviewed on 8/31/2017

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