Utah Man Dies From Rabies After Handling Bats He Allowed Into His Home

Juanita Giles and Gary Giles
Juanita Giles (left) said she and her husband, Gary Giles (right), handled the bats often and that they were never hurt by them. "The bats would lick our fingers ... but they never bit us," she said. Obituary

The bats would lick but never bite Gary Giles, but rabies can be contracted through saliva.

A Utah man who allowed bats in his home and to land on his hands has died in what is the state’s first recorded rabies death in more than 70 years.

The first signs that Gary Giles, 55, had fallen ill came in October when he began suffering from intense back and neck pain.

He went to the emergency room on Oct. 19 and was diagnosed with a likely pulled muscle, but his condition quickly deteriorated. Giles began suffering from numbness and tingling in his arms, followed by muscle spasms, seizures and delusions, his loved ones said on a GoFundMe page created to offset medical and funeral costs.

Giles was eventually placed on life support after falling into a coma. He was taken off life support on Sunday, surrounded by his family, his obituary said. 

“My dad has always been a giver,” his daughter wrote on GoFundMe. “During the final 24 hours 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.”

It is believed that Giles likely contracted rabies from bats that he and his wife, Juanita, welcomed into their home.

“The bats never hurt us, and we were always catching them in our hands and releasing them outside, because you hear all the time about how bats are good for the insect population, and you don’t  want to hurt them,” Juanita told KSL.com. “The bats would lick our fingers, almost like they could taste the saltiness of our fingers, but they never bit us.”

Rabies can be transmitted through saliva that comes in contact with broken skin, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Juanita Giles said she and her family have gotten vaccinated for rabies since her husband’s diagnosis.

“I had no clue,” she said of the risk. “We would wake up in the night and they would be walking on our bed.”

Giles was the first person to die from rabies in Utah since 1944. About 7,000 cases of rabies in animals are reported to federal officials each year, but cases humans contracting rabies are much rarer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Including Giles’ case, there have been 56 incidents of humans diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. since 1990.

“However, between 16,000 and 39,000 people are vaccinated each year as a precaution after animal bites,” the CDC wrote, recommending anyone who fears they may have been bit by a rabid animal should seek treatment immediately. 

Giles’ funeral will be held on Saturday, his family said. As of Friday, the GoFundMe page created to offset funeral and medical costs had raised more than $7,000.

“Due to circumstances outside of our control my dad does not currently have life insurance,” his daughter wrote. “Medical and funeral expenses will be overwhelming. … If you're able to make a donation we are forever grateful. If you're unable to, please know that you're all still very loved and that we have greatly appreciated all of your thoughts and prayers in my family's behalf. 

“The only favor that I ask of everyone, is that you take the time to tell those that you love how much they mean to you,” she continued. “This is a very unexpected tragedy for our family ... and what I wouldn't give to turn back time to show my love more.”