Flesh Eating Disease: Aimee Copeland Is Fighting For Her Life

is currently fighting for her life after the young woman contracted a flesh eating disease, known officially as necrotizing fasciitis, while zip lining with friends in Carrollton, Georgia.

The 24-year-old master’s student at the University of West Georgia was using a homemade zip line, while on a kayaking adventure with friends, when the line broke and left Copeland with a gash on her left calf. The wound introduced a life-threatening infection which claimed her leg as well as a piece of her abdomen after surgeons were forced to amputate in order to prevent the bacterial infection from spreading.

Her father, Andy Copeland, told ABC affiliate WSBTV:

“It’s a miracle she made it past Friday night.”

Necrotizing soft tissue infections are rare, but are an extremely severe type of bacterial infection capable of destroying skin, muscle, and underlying tissue. Streptococcus pyogenes (strep throat) is typically a deadly form of necrotizing soft tissue infection, it’s sometimes referred to as flesh-eating bacteria.

Copeland’s zip lining wound left her susceptible to infection and as the bacteria entered her body through the gash in her leg, it began to grow while releasing harmful toxins. The toxins released killed tissue while inhibiting the flow of blood to her leg. As her tissue dies, the bacteria will enter her blood stream and rapidly circulate throughout her body.

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, T.N., was quoted having said:

“The bacteria produce enzymes that can dissolve muscle deep down. And because it’s so deep, it can be a sneaky infection that’s not immediately appreciated by the patient. The symptom that should ring alarm bells is serious, unremitting pain. An otherwise healthy individual with a seemingly superficial injury who has severe pain should have a much more thorough evaluation. The two main treatment options are antibiotics to kill the bacteria and surgery. You have to look at the wound and think, ‘This is as far as the infection has gone; now I have to cut even further.'”

One week after the incident, Copeland’s temperature spiked and her pulse disappeared. She was resuscitated shortly after with CPR. Her father Andy was quoted by WSBTV having said:

“I don’t want people with long faces right now because we already had a miracle Friday night when she survived. […] I just believe we have to stay positive right now to honor Aimee.”

The National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation has indicated that frequently washing ones hands and avoiding those with sore throats can help diminish the risk of contracting flesh-eating disease.