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COVID is caused by a virus — and COVID autopsies do not ‘violate’ WHO rules

April 7, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Doctors in Russia violated a World Health Organization rule by performing autopsies on deceased COVID-19 bodies. They determined the illness is caused by bacteria — not a virus — and can be treated with antibiotics and aspirin.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Autopsies have been performed on patients who died of the disease since the early months of the pandemic. The WHO does not prohibit COVID-19 autopsies and even offers recommendations on how to safely handle those autopsies. There’s no doubt that the illness is caused by a virus, and medical experts say antibiotics and aspirin are not useful for treating COVID-19 infections.


THE FACTS: An erroneous post circulated on Instagram claiming that autopsies in Russia found COVID-19 was caused not by a virus, but by bacteria. The post also claimed the infection could be effectively treated with antibiotics and aspirin.

“Russia is the first country in the world to dissect Covid-19 corpses, and after a thorough investigation, it was determined that COVID-does NOT EXIST AS A VIRUS,” bogus posts on Instagram state.

The post’s caption further claims that “Doctors in Russia are violating the World Health Organization (WHO) law that does not allow autopsies of people with Covid-19,” which is also false.

The WHO does not pass laws, nor does it discourage autopsies of deceased COVID-19 patients. In fact, the organization issued guidance on how to handle such autopsies in March 2020.

The first published full autopsy of a deceased COVID-19 patient with photographs appeared in a Chinese journal in February 2020, according to a German study of COVID-19 autopsies.

In December, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that autopsies in Russia are routinely performed when people die of the disease.

“We have autopsies in 100 percent of cases, except some exclusions for religious reasons. But in case of infectious diseases, and the coronavirus is considered a highly dangerous infectious disease, we have autopsies in 100 percent of cases,” she said, answering a question about whether the official statistics of deaths from COVID-19 correspond to real data, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.


Autopsies of COVID-19 patients have confirmed that in addition to causing respiratory disease, the coronavirus was also attacking other organs.

Multiple Instagram posts claimed that the cause of COVID-19 is not a virus, “but rather bacteria that cause death and lead to the formation of blood clots in the veins and nerves, from which the patient dies because of these bacteria.” This is also false.

Scientists have identified SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus, as the virus that causes COVID-19. WHO officials in China were first informed about the virus in December 2019, and the virus was isolated on Jan. 7 by Chinese authorities, The Associated Press reported.

The false Instagram posts are quite similar to others the AP debunked last year that misinterpreted an Italian study that found blood clotting in patients who died of the disease. False social media posts claimed that the study determined COVID was not a virus and that antibiotics could clear the infection. “COVID 19 is for sure a virus and antibiotics do not have any effect against this infection,” Aurelio Sonzogni, a pathologist at Ospedale Papa Giovanni XXIII, a hospital in Bergamo, and an author of the report, told the AP at the time. 


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: