First Rabies Death Since 1944 Reported In Utah, Family Identifies Victim

Gary Giles is believed to have contracted the rabies virus after coming in contact with a bat.

Rabies, death, bats, Utah, Gary Giles
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Gary Giles is believed to have contracted the rabies virus after coming in contact with a bat.

The Utah Department of Health has confirmed the first human rabies death in Utah since 1944. The Utah resident died earlier this month and it is believed the victim came in contact with a bat who had the rabies virus.

While the Utah Department of Health has not formally identified the man, a family in Utah has stepped forward and identified the victim as Gary Giles, according to Fox 13 Salt Lake City. While the GoFundMe page that has been established to help with his funeral expenses does not specifically mention what Gary Giles died from, family member Crystal Sedwick has since given an interview with KUTV2 News confirming the victim’s identity.

The family states that Giles’ ordeal began when he started experiencing back pain. An incident on October 16 led Gary to believe he had pinched a nerve in his neck. Seeing a chiropractor, the issue did not resolve itself. Instead, things started to get worse. He began to “experience numbness and tingling in his arms, followed by uncontrollable muscle spasms.” As a result of this, he visited the ER on October 19 and 20. Doctors still believed he was suffering from a pinched nerve. However, by the night of October 20, he wound up in ICU at Utah Valley Hospital. Over the next nine days, all tests came back normal. However, Gary’s condition declined further and his family reports that he was in incredible pain. By October 26, he was in a coma.

According to the Utah Department of Health, the victim likely contracted rabies from contact with a bat. In order for a person to contract the rabies virus from an animal, one must be bitten or scratched, or otherwise come in contact with the infected animal’s saliva. Rabies is known to affect the nervous systems of humans and animals alike.

The Utah Department of Health also issued the following statement on the matter.

“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. Since rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms develop, all potential exposures must be taken seriously.”

As for what to do if you come into contact with a bat? Dallin Peterson, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), offers the following advice.

“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” he said. “Call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”

It is estimated that approximately 4,000 people seek rabies prevention treatment every year in the US.