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Georgia Student with Flesh-Eating Disease Shows Signs of Recovery

WSB/ABC News(AUGUSTA, Ga.) -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student battling flesh-eating disease after a zip line injury, is showing signs of recovery, her family said on Thursday.  But the 24-year-old is still fighting for her life, relying on a ventilator to breathe.

"Her condition is still critical," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, told reporters at a press conference in Augusta, Ga.  "If they were to unhook the ventilator, I don't know that she could breathe on her own."

Aimee Copeland was riding a homemade zip line near the Little Tallapoosa River on May 1 when the line snapped, causing a gash in her left calf.  Bacteria that burrowed deep into the wound caused necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but deadly infection that on Friday forced doctors to amputate her leg.

"It's a miracle she made it past Friday night," Andy Copeland told ABC News affiliate WSBTV.

Aimee may also lose her hands and her right foot, her father said.

"I couldn't conceive of what it would be like for my daughter to lose her hands and the only other foot she has, as well, and that appears to be what is going to happen," he told WSBTV.  "The most important thing is my daughter is still alive."

Although she's still on a ventilator, Aimee is alert and able to nod and shake her head, according to a Facebook page dedicated to her recovery.

"Seeing Aimee this morning was so refreshing," wrote her sister, Paige.  "My hope for her recovery is stronger than ever!"

The bacteria thought to have triggered the infection, Aeromonas hydrophila, thrives in warm climates and fresh water, like the river where Aimee was kayaking and zip lining with friends.  But experts say it rarely causes flesh-eating disease.

"This bacteria is a common cause of diarrheal illness," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.  "For it to cause a deep wound infection that dissolves tissue, that's not common."

Although the infection is rare, it's extremely dangerous.  Mortality rates for Aeromonas-related necrotizing fasciitis are upward of 60 percent, according to a 2010 report published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.  The sooner the infection is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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