Student likely to lose fingers to flesh-eating infection

ATLANTA - A Georgia college student who has already lost a leg to a rare, flesh-eating bacterial infection is now expected to suffer the loss of her fingers too, her father said.

Aimee Copeland, 24, was kayaking and zip-lining along the Little Tallapoosa River near Carrollton, Georgia, on May 1 when the line broke and she sustained a cut to her calf.

Emergency room doctors closed the wound with 22 staples and released the woman, a graduate student at West Georgia University, her father wrote in a post on Facebook.

The next day, Copeland complained of severe pain and returned to the emergency room where she was given a prescription pain killer. The pain continued and the following day she went to a doctor who gave her a prescription for antibiotics. The doctor also ordered a magnetic resonance imaging test which was negative, her father said.

On May 4, Copeland was pale and weak and went to a hospital where doctors diagnosed her with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection.

Copeland, who already suffered the amputation of a leg at the hip, was still listed in critical condition on Sunday, said Barclay Bishop, spokeswoman for Doctor's Hospital in Augusta.

She would not provide any other details, but Aimee's father, Andy Copeland, said in a web posting over the weekend that her fingers were also likely to be lost to the infection ravaging her body.

He said she may retain the use of her palms after surgery, however, something that would potentially leave her with enough muscle control to use prosthetics.

Doctors are "awaiting a safe time" before conducting further surgery, the father wrote.

Necrotizing fasciitis is often initially overlooked by doctors because it invades tissue deep inside the wound while the outer wound appears to be healing normally, Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University Medical School said.

"This often is a very subtle infection initially," Schaffner said. "These bacteria lodge in the deeper layers of the wound. The organism is deep in the tissues and that's where it's causing its mischief."

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