Utah had the first human rabies death in over 70 years and the Utah Department of Health noted that the commonest carriers of the deadly disease are bats. Fox 13 Now reported that the deceased, 55-year-old Gary Giles, became ill in October, received some treatment, but later succumbed to the rabies virus. The family had no idea that bats could carry the virus and they often handled the animals.

Rabies not diagnosed initially

Possibly because rabies seldom infects humans in the USA, the initial symptoms were thought to be related to a pulled back muscle.

This was after he reported for treatment, complaining of a sore neck and back pain. His condition deteriorated and he again sought treatment after experiencing "numbness and tingling" in his arms," his daughter Crystal Sedgwick said, according to Fox. His discomfort was intense and he felt like he had "fire" on his body.

Eventually, Gary ended up in the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. He later died in intensive care. Nobody knew he had rabies until he passed away on November 4. The virus cannot be detected by sampling body fluids. The illness is painful and death mercifully comes after a coma. Desert News quoted epidemiologist Dallin Peterson, as saying, "Once (the infection) gets into the central nervous system, it advances quickly.

It's a terrible way to pass away."

Bats suspected to be the source of the rabies virus

Bats do carry rabies and the Utah Department of Health test some of them for the virus every year. Rabies in bats is certainly not unheard of and they account for the majority of carriers. On average, about 20 to 25 bats test positive for rabies every year.

People should not handle bats, according to Peterson. Dead or alive, they should not be handled in case they transmit the disease.

In the case of Gary Giles, bats had moved into the rafters and often came into the home. Picking them up to release them may have resulted in a bite. However, as their teeth are small, a bite may go unnoticed.

Gary and his wife thought they were quite cute and tried to handle them gently and do the right thing by picking them up and letting them outside. Sometimes they even awoke to bats on the bed.

Utah residents understandably nervous

Utah residents are understandably nervous but Dallin Peterson said that usually, bats tend to avoid humans. He noted that a bat that seems friendly or starts to approach should be avoided. Unusual behaviour could indicate the animal is sickening and may have the rabies virus.