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Teen May Lose Hand to Rare, Flesh-Eating Fish Tank Bacteria

Courtesy Amy Cox(OAK HILLS, Calif.) -- What started as a small scrape from the corner of the family's fish tank five years ago may end in the amputation of a champion teen gynmast's hand.

Hannele Cox, 13, from Oak Hills, California has battled a rare, flesh-eating infection she contracted from the tank when she was 8 and doctors have been unable to stop it from spreading.  The bacteria has now spread to the bones of her right hand.

"I can't use that hand at all.  I'm in pain all the time," says Cox.

Over the years, the infection has forced Cox to quit sports like volleyball and gymnastics, despite having won an American Athletic Union gymnastics championship.  The infection has become so severe that the eighth grader has been unable to write or do school work because her dominant hand is constantly shaking with pain.

Mycobacterium marinum, sometimes referred to as fish tank granuloma, usually eats away at only the surface of the skin.  But in Cox's case it has infected several bones in her right hand, a development which could mean amputation of her right hand.

Doctors at the Loma Linda Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center have tried multiple types of antibiotics and two surgeries to remove infected tissue, but the bacteria seems to have become drug-resistant.  Fearing she may be infected with a "superbug" strain of the bacteria, the Cox family is seeking further treatment for her with infectious disease experts at Denver, Colorado's National Jewish Health medical center next week.

"I'm afraid they won't be able to fix it," the teen girl says of her upcoming trip to Denver.  "I'm afraid they'll mess up again and I'll go through something I didn't have to, like with the past treatments."

Her mother is also looking ahead to the Denver trip with concern.

"When I found out that it had spread to her bones, I think that's the hardest I've cried in this whole thing.  I just lost it," says the teen's mom, Amy Cox.  "After years of doctors not taking this seriously, this trip [to Denver] is our last hope."

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