Flesh-eating germ rare, especially for the healthy

Associated Press Modified: May 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm •  Published: May 14, 2012
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ATLANTA (AP) — Aimee Copeland, a Georgia grad student, is fighting for her life because of the flesh-eating bacteria that infected her after she gashed her leg in a river two weeks ago. One of her legs was amputated and her fingers will be too, her father says, because of the spreading infection.

She has a rare condition, called necrotizing fasciitis, in which marauding bacteria run rampant through tissue. Affected areas sometimes have to be surgically removed to save the patient's life.

HOW OFTEN DO PEOPLE GET THESE INFECTIONS?

The government estimates roughly 750 flesh-eating bacteria cases occur each year, usually caused by a type of strep germ.

However, Aimee Copeland's infection was caused by another type of bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila. Those cases are even rarer. One expert knew of only a few reported over the past few decades.

DO MOST PEOPLE SURVIVE?

Yes, but about 1 in 5 people with the most common kind of flesh-eating strep bacteria die. There are few statistics on Aeromonas-caused cases like Copeland's.

HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN?

The germs that can cause flesh-eating disease are common in warm and brackish waters like ponds, lakes and streams. They are not a threat to most people. 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."

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