High Prevalence of Pre-Existing Liver Abnormalities Identified Via Autopsies in COVID-19: Identification of a New Silent Risk Factor?
A high prevalence of hepatic pathology (in 17 of 19 cases) was reported in post-mortem (PM) examinations of COVID-19 patients, undertaken between March 2020 and February 2021 by a single autopsy pathologist in two English Coronial jurisdictions. The patients in our cohort demonstrated high levels of recognised COVID-19 risk factors, including hypertension (8/16, 50%), type 2 diabetes mellitus (8/16, 50%) and evidence of arteriopathy 6/16 (38%). Hepatic abnormalities included steatosis (12/19; 63%), moderate to severe venous congestion (5/19; 26%) and cirrhosis (4/19; 21%). A subsequent literature review indicated a significantly increased prevalence of steatosis (49%), venous congestion (34%) and cirrhosis (9.3%) in COVID-19 PM cases, compared with a pre-pandemic PM cohort (33%, 16%, and 2.6%, respectively), likely reflecting an increased mortality risk in SARS-CoV-2 infection for patients with pre-existing liver disease. To corroborate this observation, we retrospectively analysed the admission liver function test (LFT) results of 276 consecutive, anonymised COVID-19 hospital patients in our centre, for whom outcome data were available. Of these patients, 236 (85.5%) had significantly reduced albumin levels at the time of admission to hospital, which was likely indicative of pre-existing chronic liver or renal disease. There was a strong correlation between patient outcome (length of hospital admission or death) and abnormal albumin at the time of hospital admission (p = 0.000012). We discuss potential mechanisms by which our observations of hepatic dysfunction are linked to a risk of COVID-19 mortality, speculating on the importance of recently identified anti-interferon antibodies.