Pelican rescue turns into flesh-eating vibrio infection for Manatee County woman

A Manatee County bird rescue group got a call about a hooked pelican. Jeanette Edwards went to work near the Rod and Reel Pier but in the process of freeing the bird, she was scratched. 

Hours later, the founder of Friends of the Pelicans realized something was very wrong.

"It went to fly and I went to grab her," Edwards recalled.

She didn't realize the bird's wing had been ripped off by the fishing line. 

"As I fell with her, I was in the water, but my hand must have scrapped the sand," she said. 

Edwards walked away with the bird and a few scrapes. A few hours after the rescue, she said her hand started to swell. The next day she found a blister-like bump.

"My finger had swollen to twice its size. It was a huge blister and I thought, 'I cannot wait,'" said Edwards. 

Before she left for the doctor, an article online caught her attention. A no swim advisory had been issued Bayfront Park North, where she had fallen into the water.

Testing from the Health Department on October 21, 23 and the 28 showed high levels of enterococci bacteria. 

"At that point, I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' It said the high bacteria count on that portion of the beach, it was exactly where I was," she said. 

What Edwards contracted, however, was even worse. 

"The urgent care doctor said he expected it was the vibrio and sent me to the emergency room," Edwards recalled.

Vibrio can cause flesh-eating disease. Luckily, a CT scan showed her infection had not spread. Doctors sent her home with a high dose of antibiotics. 

Her arm has returned to normal, but her decision to see the doctor immediately may have made the difference. 

"I would have taken a 'wait and see' attitude and that could have been deadly," she said. 

She wants others to realize the dangers that could be lurking in the water. 

"There was a lot of people there and no one knew. Hopefully, nobody else contracted anything," said Edwards.