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Sepsis threatens hospital patients (and others), study finds

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2010

Add sepsis to your list of post-surgery worries. Or, if you're so inclined, to your list of worries in general.

First, we'll look at the hospital picture. Researchers at Methodist Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College, set out to document the incidence, mortality rate and risk factors for sepsis and septic shock after general surgery. And what they found wasn't pretty.

Using data from 363,897 patients, they established that sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, occurred in 2.3% of those patients and that septic shock, dangerously low blood pressure from said blood infection, occurred in 1.6%. Compare that withthe better-known threats of pulmonary embolism — 0.3% of patients — and heart attacks (a.k.a. myocardial infarctions) — 0.2% of patients.

The researchers write:

"Case mortality rates in patients with sepsis and septic shock exceed those of [myocardial infarction] and pulmonary embolism] combined by nearly 10-fold. Therefore, our level of vigilance in identifying sepsis and septic shock needs to mimic, if not surpass, our vigilance for identifying MI and PE. By identifying 3 major risk factors for the development of and death from sepsis and septic shock in general-surgery patients, we can heighten our awareness for sepsis and septic shock in these at-risk populations."

Those three risk factors, by the way, are being older than 60, needing emergency surgery and having some other disease or condition as well.