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Sticker shock: Utah family facing $50K rabies vaccination bill

MORONI, Sanpete County — After dealing with the shock of losing a loved one, a Utah family is now dealing with sticker shock over an enormous medical bill — $50,000 for rabies vaccinations.

Gary Giles, 55, died from the rare disease in November, the first death of its kind in Utah since 1944.

He and his wife, Juanita Giles, didn't realize the bats that had frequented their home were carriers of the highly contagious and deadly virus.

"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 Giles said at the time.

In the midst of her grief, Giles got a call from the Utah Department of Health two days after her husband’s death informing her he died from rabies. She said she was told she needed to get to the hospital right away.

“They called the closest ER and called me right back, and said, ‘They are waiting for you,’” Giles said, adding she was told by the health department not to worry about the cost.

Giles and 25 family members were given the rabies vaccine in case they were exposed to the disease through contact with Gary Giles in the hospital.

“It can be passed by saliva, and that’s why the health department told us to get the shots,” Catherin Dalton, Gary Giles’ sister, said.

Thanks to the vaccinations, no one in the family contracted the fatal disease. But now, even after insurance, family members owe a total of $50,000.

The family says even though their case is rare, they believe the Utah Department of Health needs to develop a new protocol to better deal with families who may be exposed to a human case of rabies.

“I know they are trying to save lives, but if you lead somebody to believe there is help out there, you ought to stand behind that, too,” Giles said.

“Heaven forbid this ever happens again, that this can be a learning experience that we can take better care of the next family this happens to,” Dalton said.

In a written statement, the Utah Department of Health said:

“We recognize this family has been through a lot. The situation they now find themselves in is very unfortunate, and we sympathize with them. We also want to support them. There are financial assistance resources available through vaccine manufacturers and health care providers and we’ve worked with the family to provide them with this information and help steer them in the right direction. We’re committed to continue working with the family to hopefully help them find a resolution.”