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Research to examine antibiotic treatment for sepsis in Covid-19

An internationally important research study that involves researchers from the University of Warwick is looking to improve the use of antibiotics for patients with Covid-19 at risk of sepsis.

Covid-19 is caused by a coronavirus infection and, like any other infection, it puts you in danger of developing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection. It happens when the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, which can lead to organ failure and death. Most patients with Covid-19 who have to be admitted to hospital develop lung infection (pneumonia). Progression to sepsis often occurs in critically ill patients and is a common cause of Covid-19 related deaths. People who have survived Covid-19 are also likely to have an increased risk of developing sepsis during their recovery.

Now the expert team behind the ADAPT-Sepsis study – including doctors and scientists from Warwick Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Warwick, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester – are to include seriously ill Covid-19 patients in their work to make antibiotic prescribing for critically ill patients with suspected sepsis more effective and targeted. The world-first study, which started in 2017 and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, is examining whether one of two different markers in the blood is more effective to guide doctors on the safe use of antibiotics. This is particularly important for severe infections caused by coronavirus because there is no evidence that antibiotics are effective at treating viral infections.

Chief Investigator Professor Paul Dark, Consultant in Critical Care Medicine at Salford Royal and Professor of Critical Care Medicine at The University of Manchester and the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, says this is hugely important because of the dangers of antibiotic overuse that could lead to unwanted patient effects (such as drug-related organ damage, allergic reactions or development of other infections), diminished supplies of antibiotics and increases in downstream antibiotic resistance – an acknowledged global health challenge.

He said: “During the first wave of the pandemic, there was widespread use of antibiotics in hospitalised patients with severe pneumonia and sepsis as a result of Covid-19. Research suggests that overuse of antibiotics is associated with further risk of hospital-acquired infection and sepsis as patients recover which can be even more difficult to treat.

“This is why it is so important that hospital staff have the best possible guidance on antibiotic treatment decisions in adult patients with severe pneumonia and sepsis.

“As we go into winter and the second wave of the pandemic, we expect to see more patients with viral and bacterial respiratory infections and this study has a vital role in how we look after them and future patients.”

The ADAPT-Sepsis study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Chief Medical Officer/ Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England. This means that it is being prioritised to gather the necessary clinical evidence that will inform national policy and enable new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines to be developed and tested for Covid-19. It is taking place in more than 30 hospitals across the UK.

Professor Gavin Perkins of Warwick Clinical Trials Unit and the Warwick lead for ADAPT-Sepsis said: “We are pleased this important study has been endorsed by the CMO as an Urgent Public Health priority and expanded to include patients with COVID-19. It has the potential to have a big impact on the safe use of antibiotics in people with sepsis and COVID-19.”


Notes for editors:

  • One in five Covid-19 survivors who required hospital treatment is at risk of sepsis within a year of being discharged, according to the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST)
  • Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust is part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, along with the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, and provides services for over 1 million people.
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  • Please visit to learn about other studies that have been given urgent public health status and the single, national prioritisation process that has been established to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure that the resources and capacity of the health and care system to support COVID-19 research are not exceeded.
  • The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:
  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care.

About the University of Manchester: The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is the UK’s largest single-site university with 38,600 students. It has 20 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering, multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. The University is one of the country’s major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of ‘research power’ (REF 2014), and has had no fewer than 25 Nobel laureates either work or study there. The University had an annual income of £1 billion in 2014/15. Visit

4 November 2020

University of Warwick press office contact:

Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics) | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick

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