Man touched bats because ‘they were kind of cute.’ His death is a warning, family says

Gary Giles, a Moroni, Utah, man, died from rabies at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray after his family says he handled bats. The dad of four is the first person to die from the disease in Utah since 1944.
Gary Giles, a Moroni, Utah, man, died from rabies at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray after his family says he handled bats. The dad of four is the first person to die from the disease in Utah since 1944. Screenshot from GoFundMe

Juanita Giles says she and her husband, Gary, didn’t think much of the bats that often visited their home in Moroni, Utah.

“The bats never hurt us, and we were always catching them in our hands and releasing them outside,” she told KSL, “because you hear all the time about how bats are good for the insect population, and you don’t want to hurt them.”

But starting on Oct. 19, the man was twice rushed to a hospital — first for back and neck pain, which doctors treated as what they thought was a pulled muscle with pain medicine and steroids before sending him home, KSL reported. His condition worsened, and he was eventually put in the ICU at Intermountain Medical Center when he began to wheeze and feel numb.

The father of four died on Nov. 4, but news outlets have just started to identify Giles publicly, according to the Gephardt Daily.

Now, the 55-year-old man’s family and the Utah Department of Health are issuing a warning about his death: He died from rabies, and the bats in his house are likely to blame. It’s the first time someone has died from rabies in the state for 74 years, according to KUTV.

“In Utah, people and animals are most likely to come into contact with rabies through exposure to bats,” read a news release from the state’s Department of Health, according to the Gephardt Daily. “Because a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a bat bite or scratch may not be seen or felt by the injured person.

“Anyone who is bitten by a bat, has bare skin contact with a bat, or has other potential contact with a bat, such as waking up in a room with a bat, should contact their health care provider or local health department for advice on whether they should receive treatment to prevent rabies.”

Crystal Sedgwick, Giles’ daughter, told KUTV that her father thought the bats “were kind of cute” — so he would let his wife pet them after he caught the critters to get them out of his house.

She said rabies from the bats led to a “very very painful death for my dad,” according to KUTV, and she hopes others take notice.

“It was hard to watch him go through,” she said, according to the station. “Our hope is that people that see bats in their home contact someone else to have them removed (and) that they don’t try to remove them themselves, that they don’t touch them.”

Twenty-three people in the U.S. have caught rabies between January 2008 and September 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of those people had exposure to bats, the CDC says, and only two out of the 23 survived.

The CDC estimates that about one to three people in the U.S. each year come down with rabies.

Symptoms of rabies include: hallucinations, coma, difficulty swallowing, seizures, stiff neck, muscle spasms, irritability, headache, anxiety and death.

At one point in the hospital, Giles “was experiencing seizures in his brain approximately 16 times an hour,” according to a GoFundMe page created by Sedgwick to help cover medical expenses for her father, who does not have life insurance.

The family took the man off life support on Nov. 4, according to the post. But his family treasured their last conscious moment with him.

“My dad has always been a giver,” Sedgwick wrote on the GoFundMe page. “During the final 24 hrs that he was still able to speak with us, he was in a delusional state, and he still couldn’t stop talking about all the people that he needed to help and favors that he had yet to follow through with. He has a heart of gold.”

After her husband’s death, Juanita says she hopes others will see the potential danger lurking within those cute little bats.

“It’s very scary and it is creating a bit of a panic,” she said, according to KSL. “I had no clue. We would wake up in the night and they would be walking on our bed.”

“I’ve always thought bats were kind of cute, but I had no idea the kind of risk we were at.”