Video Shows Bat With Rabies, Like the One That Killed a Utah Man

"He would sit there and hold them for her and let her pet their little heads."

A Utah man died from a rabies infection on November 4, the state’s first human rabies death in 70 years. The virus, say officials, was likely transmitted from a bat in his home.

The family of 55-year-old Gary Giles told local news that he regularly handled the tiny mammals, much to the delight of his wife, who found them cute. Indeed, as shown in the video above, which depicts a rabid bat, everything about these animals is adorable. While the stereotypical picture of a rabid animal may include dogs with frothing mouths or raccoons who attack runners, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, bats are actually a very common rabies vector. In fact, the CDC has found that getting rabies from a bat can happen a little too easily.

“Recent data suggest that transmission of rabies virus can occur from minor, seemingly unimportant, or unrecognized bites from bats,” CDC officials write. “Human and domestic animal contact with bats should be minimized, and bats should never be handled by untrained and unvaccinated persons or be kept as pets.”

Diana Hernandez, Ph.D., a staff scientist at Geisinger Health, put it even more simply:

“As a general advice leave wildlife alone,” she tweeted. “Bats are not pets and shouldn’t interact with humans.”

Bats may seem like little flying kittens, but they're wild animals who can carry diseases like rabies.
Bats may seem like little flying kittens, but they're wild animals who can carry diseases like rabies.

In Giles’ case, he likely had no idea of the harm he could face as a result of his apparently charming habit of handling bats he found in the house.

“He would just catch them, put them outside,” his daughter Crystal Sedgwick told Salt Lake City’s Fox 13. “I know that my mom has always thought that bats were really cute, so he would sit there and hold them for her and let her pet their little heads, and they would lick them, but they never really thought anything of it.”

Based on the CDC’s information about bats as rabies vectors, even this seemingly harmless contact could have been enough to infect Giles. Contact with mucous membranes can transmit the rabies virus, so if he touched his mouth or nose without washing his hands after handling a bat, that could have been all it took.

Sedgwick told Fox 13 that the infection started out in mid-October with Giles experiencing neck pain and then tingling in his limbs. The family found out after he died that he’d had rabies, the first death from the virus in Utah since 1944.

“He was very honest, very kind. I definitely don’t think that this is how he would’ve wanted to die,” Sedgwick said. “It was very painful for him. It was hard to watch.”

She hopes that if people can take anything from her father’s story, it’s that they should take the threat of rabies from bats seriously.

“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” Dallin Peterson, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, told KSL TV. “Call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”