It's a story line plucked straight out of a horror movie — but unfortunately, it is no movie.

Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old Georgia woman, is fighting for her life due to a soft tissue infection called necrotizing fasciitis caused by a flesh-eating bacteria. As its name implies, necrotizing fasciitis can destroy the muscles, skin and underlying tissue of the body.

The good news is that this type of infection is rare. But the bad news is that it's also deadly. Necrotizing fasciitis is actually caused by several kinds of bacteria. In some instances, it's the same bacteria that cause other, more common infections such as strep throat and impetigo. The bacteria that caused Copeland's infection is called Aeromonas hydrophila.

flesh eating bactera or necrotizing fasciitisHow does this deadly infection occur? You can get necrotizing fasciitis when bacteria enter the body, usually through a minor cut, insect bite or scrape. But rest assured, it is very rare. Doctors have described the Copeland case as a tragic "perfect storm" of conditions that led to her infection: the bacteria was present in the water over which Copeland was zip-lining; her accident caused her to fall into the water and cut her calf; and for whatever reason, her body is just the right host for this type of bacteria, allowing the infection to take off.

One thing to keep in mind is that the symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis are similar to those of a less-severe infection: pain, fever, swelling, redness and nausea. However, the symptoms are likely to be much worse than you would expect from the size of the wound.

It can be hard to gauge pain levels with kids — some cry at every paper cut while others stoically push broken bones back through the skin. But doctors say one way to tell the difference between this deadly infection and more common infections is that kids with an infected wound are likely to be grumpy or angry, whereas as kids with necrotizing fasciitis are much weaker and sicker.

If you do suspect an infection of any kind, seek out the advice of your health care professional. If it is necrotizing fasciitis, the odds of survival improve when the condition is recognized early.

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Inset photo of flesh-eating bacteria wound: US Dept of Veterans Affairs/sxc.hu

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