Flesh-Eating Cases Show Reality of Rare Disease

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Flesh-eating bacteria sounds like a diagnosis straight out of a sci-fi movie.

But for young graduate student Aimee Copeland, the infection has cost her one leg and soon both hands and her remaining foot.

The 24-year-old is now breathing on her own, a milestone worth celebrating as she fights the rare, deadly infection called necrotizing fasciitis. One in five cases is fatal.

The bacteria entered Copeland's body after she cut her leg in a zip lining accident and fell into a river below.

CBN News Medical Reporter Lorie Johnson offered more insight on the flesh-eating bacteria risk. Click play for her comments, following Efrem Graham's report.

"On occasion the group, a strep gets from the throat, circulates in the bloodstream, finds this area of muscle injury and stops there, sets up shop and begins to cause serious infection," explained Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University professor and chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine.

Copeland has watched as the virus consumed parts of her body. But her father, Andy, said she has somehow managed to stay her normal, upbeat self.

"She understands the miracle of her existance right now," he said.

Andy is blogging about his daughter's progress on a website set up by the University of West Georgia she attends school.

In a recent post he described Copeland's courage the moment she was told she would lose her remaining foot as well as both hands.

Her response: "Lets do this."

"A tear rolled down my face as I walked out of her room," Andy wrote.

"I wasn't crying because Aimee was going to lose her hands and foot," he continued. "I was crying because in all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage."

News of two other cases of the rare bacteria have been reported. Both are also in the South.

One patient is a new mother who was readmitted to the hospital shortly after giving birth to twins. She is currently intubated and sedated as she fights the infection.

The other case is a 32-year-old landscaper who is recovering after being infected earlier this month.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.