A mandatory sepsis screening after general surgery could prevent patients from suffering life-threatening sepsis and septic shock, researchers say.Methodist Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College scientists documented that general surgery patients in US are more likely to suffer sepsis and septic shock than heart attacks or blood clots in the lungs.

Sepsis, a deadly body-wide inflammatory response to an infection usually caused by bacteria in the bloodstream, can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure, and eventually death. One out of three patients who develop septic shock after surgery dies within a month of the operation.

Researchers evaluated data from 363,897 patients who had general surgery between 2005 and 2007 and found that sepsis occurred in 8,350 (2.3 percent), septic shock occurred in 5,977 (1.6 percent), blood clots in the lungs occurred in 1,078 (0.3 percent), and heart attack occurred in 615 (0.2 percent).

Death rates within 30 days after surgery were 5.4 percent for sepsis, 33.7 percent for septic shock, 9.1 percent for blood clots in the lungs, and 32 percent for heart attack.

"Case mortality rates in patients with sepsis and septic shock exceed those of [heart attacks and blood clots in the lungs] 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 [heart attacks and blood clots in the lungs]," researchers wrote.

The study identified 3 major risk factors for sepsis and septic shock in general-surgery patients. Those who are older than 60, need emergency surgery and have other co-existing disease or condition fall into at-risk population that requires heightened awareness for sepsis and septic shock.

In 2010, sepsis cases are expected to rise to 1 million, according to the Surviving Sepsis Campaign.