Necrotizing fasciitis. For many people this is one of the most terrifying, invasive infections imaginable, and for one unlucky woman in Georgia this is her current reality. Reports of this disease date back to Hippocrates in 500 BC, whose early description was that “diffused erysipelas caused by trivial accidents, [where] flesh, sinews, and bones fell away in large quantities, [leading to] death in many cases1.” Many people regard the disease as a medical monster, an invasive and lethal infection that progresses at a rate straight out of science fiction.
For those of you not familiar with the story, a young Masters student named Aimee Copeland was injured while on a home-made zipline. When the line broke she fell and cut her leg on rocks in the river beneath her. What started as a small cut on her leg quickly grew into a life threatening infection that resulted in the amputation of her entire left leg and possibly her hands in order to limit the spread of the disease. How is it possible that a small injury so quickly became life threatening? To understand this we have to understand more about necrotizing fasciitis itself and the bacteria that cause it.