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US woman fights flesh-eating infection

15th May 2012

A 24-year-old college student from the US looks set to lose her remaining limbs following her infection with a rare, flesh-eating bacteria and the amputation of one leg.


Aimee Copeland's infection with the extremely rare disease, necrotising fasciitis, following an accident on an outdoor excursion has grabbed national headlines, owing to the dramatic effect of the infection on the life of a talented and attractive young woman.

Copeland has been described by friends as determined and passionate, enjoying a wide range of activities including hiking through forests, tending her organic vegetables and working towards her masters degree in psychology.

Friends and family have maintained a constant vigil at the Augusta, Georgia hospital where Copeland is being treated. Her fellow students at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton have been organising blood donation activities and holding vigils to pray for her recovery.

Copeland has already had one leg amputated since the infection set in.

Fellow graduate student Richard LaFleur, with whom Copeland worked to recruit students for the psychology department, said he expected she would continue to fight for her life with the same determination she had brought to everything else in her life.

"If anyone will pull through this, it will be Aimee," he said.

The infection happened while Copeland was on a kayaking trip with friends near the Little Tallapoosa River after finishing her second year of her degree. She fell onto rocks and gashed her leg after a zip line the companions used to cross the river broke.

Her leg became infected after she received more than 20 staples in the wound at a local emergency department, but she was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis and flown to Augusta for specialist treatment.

Her wound was infected by a bacteria called Aeromonas hydrophila, which lives in warm and brackish water. It is more likely to cause diarrhoea than any other sickness, often in people who have swallowed the water. Many people who are exposed to it do not fall ill at all.

Cases of necrotising fasciitis caused by Aeromonas bacteria are so rare that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not even keep statistics on them, and medical journals have only reported a small number of cases in the past few decades.

Flesh-eating cases are more often associated with Group A streptococcus, and many doctors do not even consider Aeromonas a particular threat, according to Amy Horneman, a microbiologist at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and expert on Aeromonas.

But she said that it should be the first concern of physicians treating people with traumatic water infections.

The amputation of Copeland's leg last week prompted a cardiac arrest, but she regained consciousness despite still being in critical condition, her family said via its blog.

Further amputations will be carried out soon, and Copeland is likely to lose all of her extremities. However, the family was initially told by doctors that her chances of survival were slim to none, so they remain optimistic that she will pull through.

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Michael Tittley

Tuesday 15th May 2012 @ 22:42

In September 2012 I had my leg amputated because of NF. I have made a full recovery and use a prosthetic. I hope with all my heart that this young lady wins her battle. Life will go on, don't give up!

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