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Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek April 9, 2021

COVID-19 is caused by a virus and autopsies do not violate WHO policies, as posts claim

If Your Time is short

• COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not by bacteria.

• The World Health Organization does not prohibit autopsies on people who have died because of COVID-19.

More than a year after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, posts circulating on social media continue to purport that the public’s understanding of the illness — and of the virus that causes it — is deeply flawed.

One Instagram post shares a headline that says COVID-19 is not actually caused by a virus at all. 

"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," reads the screenshot of a story headline. 

The photo caption goes on to say that the Russian doctors the article refers to are "violating" a World Health Organization "law that does not allow autopsies of people" who have died of COVID-19. 

The post also claims a bacteria, rather than a virus, causes the disease.

"After a period of scientific discovery, it cannot be assumed that it is a virus, but rather bacteria that cause death," the post says, before reiterating, "the patient dies because of these bacteria."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

This post is wrong in a number of ways. 

First, the claim that COVID-19 is caused by bacteria is false. It is caused by a virus. 

COVID-19 is the World Health Organization’s official name for the disease caused by the virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2). 

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False claims about COVID-19 being caused by bacteria have been circulating for months. PolitiFact, other fact-checking organizations, and even the WHO have repeatedly debunked those claims.

Although bacteria and viruses can cause people to experience similar symptoms, the two are different biologically.

The post is also inaccurate in its claims that there is a WHO "law" that prohibits doctors from conducting autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19.

The WHO does not prohibit autopsies on COVID-19 patients. 

In September 2020, the organization released guidelines for how medical professionals can safely perform autopsies on those who died because of COVID-19. The guidelines include recommendations regarding personal protective equipment and performing autopsies in rooms with adequate ventilation.

The first full autopsy of a COVID-19 patient was published in a Chinese medical journal in February 2020, according to a study of COVID-19 autopsies

Doctors and researchers in the U.S. have been conducting autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19 for months. The Washington Post reported that "the first large batch" of autopsy reports were published in May and June 2020.

Autopsy findings have "shaped our understanding of what COVID-19 does to the body and how we might combat it," ABC News reported, noting that different treatments have been considered based on autopsy results.

Our ruling

A post claims that bacteria causes COVID-19 and that "Covid-does NOT exist AS A VIRUS." It also says that Russian doctors who performed autopsies on deceased COVID-19 patients violated a World Health Organization law.

COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not by bacteria. The WHO does not prohibit autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19. The organization actually provided guidelines for how to safely perform autopsies on COVID-19 patients.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Instagram post, April 5, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 is still a virus, not a bacterium as post claims," May 28, 2020

Associated Press, "COVID is caused by a virus — and COVID autopsies do not ‘violate’ WHO rules," April 7, 2021, "COVID-19 Isn’t Caused by Bacteria," May 27, 2020

USA Today, "Fact check: Novel coronavirus is a virus, not a bacterium easily treated with aspirin," May 29, 2020

World Health Organization, "Infection prevention and control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19: interim guidance," Sept. 4, 2020

World Health Organization, "Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it," accessed March 7, 2021

World Health Organization, "FACT: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a virus, NOT by bacteria," accessed April 9, 2021

Mayo Clinic, "Bacterial vs. viral infections: How do they differ?" accessed April 9, 2021

Healthline, "What’s the Difference Between Bacterial and Viral Infections?" April 24, 2020

The Lancet, "Genomic characterisation and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus," Feb 22, 2020

ABC News, "The autopsy, a fading practice, revealed secrets of COVID-19," Dec. 24, 2020

National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Autopsy findings in COVID-19-related deaths: a literature review," Oct. 7, 2020

National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Autopsies of COVID-19 deceased? Absolutely!" July 26, 2020

The Washington Post, "Coronavirus autopsies: A story of 38 brains, 87 lungs and 42 hearts," July 1, 2020

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COVID-19 is caused by a virus and autopsies do not violate WHO policies, as posts claim

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