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Rabies death is Utah’s first since 1944

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SALT LAKE CITY — State health officials say a Utah resident has died from rabies for the first time since 1944, and KSL has learned bats may have played a role.

The Department of Health says the victim died on Sunday. His widow and friends identify him as Gary Giles, 55, of Moroni.

At first, his widow, Juanita Giles, thought her husband suffered an industrial accident because he had excruciating pain throughout his body.

“A doctor at Utah Valley Hospital said that he had never sent out so many tests on one patient, trying to find out what was wrong with him,” she said.

Giles thought that bats were harmless, but the Utah Health Department says bats are the most likely source of exposure to rabies for state residents, and say people should never touch, hit or kill bats.

“And we were always catching them with our hands, and releasing them outside, because you hear all the time about how bats are good [to eat] the insect population and mosquitoes,” she said.

Rabies attacked Gary Giles’ nervous system. Juanita says his doctors ordered a battery of tests and couldn’t detect the disease until after he died.

Rabies travels slowly and quietly through the nervous system, and they look like “body aches or muscle aches, flu-like illness, which is very generic across the board,” said state epidemiologist Dallin Peterson. “It could be anything.”

Peterson says Utah health officials find up to 25 infected bats yearly.

Vaccines can be available before and after infection.

“Most of the time, we’re informed after someone is exposed, usually through a bite, and then they get the post-exposure series,” Peterson said, adding rabid animal bites can be hard to detect.

The family has launched a GoFundMe page* to raise money for funeral expenses.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

* does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.