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Georgia Woman Battles for Life against Rare Flesh Eating Bacteria

Update Date: May 16, 2012 01:54 AM EDT

26-year-old Aimee Copeland is fighting for her life because of a flesh-eating bacteria infection she got when he gashed her leg in the river on May 1st. The infection claimed her leg and threatens to take her fingers.

"She will learn about the loss of her beautiful leg. She will discover that her hands lack the dexterity and tactile response she has known all her life," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, wrote in a blog dedicated to his daughter's recovery. "How would you respond in such a situation? I think that moment will be one of horror and depression for Aimee." 

While the government states that approximately 750 flesh-eating bacteria infection cases are reported every year, Copeland's case is not quite the same. Her infection was caused by another type of bacterium called Aeromonas hydrophila, which is very rare. So rare that experts have heard of only a few such cases reported in the last decade.

The way these bacteria work is they feed on the flesh of the body and spread rapidly, affecting different parts of the body. In many cases, these affected parts need to be cut in order for the patient to survive. In Aimee's case, she is currently suffering from a rare condition called necrotizing fasciitis, in which marauding bacteria run rampant through tissue.

These bacteria are usually found in warm and brackish waters like ponds, lakes and streams. They do not pose a threat to people normally, but if you get a cut or a wound, especially a deep one, there's every chance these germs will enter the body.

An infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, said: "I could dive in that same stream, in the same place, and if I don't injure myself I'm going to be perfectly fine. It's not going to get on the surface of my skin and burrow in. It doesn't do that."

Such infections can be prevented by cleaning up and providing prompt medical attention to the wound. While the wound might look clean from the outside, if they are stitched up or closed too quickly, they can deprive the wound of oxygen, creating a perfect environment for these bacteria to grow, multiple and spread internally. Once established, these rare infections can be tricky to diagnose and treat. Also, such bacteria are resistant to most usual antibiotics that work for other infections. Hence doctors need to be extra careful about the medication they use.

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