When Randall Large, 47, heard strange sounds in his room, he had no idea it would turn out to be a rabid bat.
Large returned from vacation Aug. 29 to his rented room near Staples. That night, he heard noises, “muffled, so I ignored it and went back to sleep,” Large said.
After returning from the restroom on the night of the 30th, the noises got louder.
“When I laid back in bed it screeched and I was like, ‘What is that?’ ” Large said. “I turned all the lights on and started digging around. There was a bat, in my bed, under my pillow.”
Large had never seen a bat before, he said, and keeps screens off his windows in the summer to let the breeze in.
The bat started crawling into the back of his bed into the slats of his headboard.
“Of course, I’m freaking out,” Large said, but he managed to take video with his smartphone (watch at JHNewsAndGuide.com). “I got some kitchen tongs, I ran back over and it was behind the bed. I snatched it, and I threw it out the window. I just wanted it out of the house.”
At the time, Large didn’t realize this wasn’t the right decision. He could’ve been bitten but would never know because bat teeth are so small that they rarely, if ever, leave a mark. That’s what’s so scary, he said.
When he went to a doctor’s appointment, coincidentally scheduled for the next day, his doctor told him he needed to get shots — fast. Rabies is almost always fatal, but the treatment can prevent death if it is started as soon as possible, ideally immediately or within 10 days.
Bats are “a major reservoir of rabies in Wyoming,” according to public health officials. The Centers for Disease Control recommends: If you wake up in a room where a bat is present, an adult witnesses a bat in a room with a child or intoxicated individual, or anyone physically contacts a bat, that post-exposure treatment be given.
“If you’re starting to show clinical signs of rabies, there’s no cure for it,” said Rachael Wheeler, Teton County Public Health response coordinator. “It’s really important to talk to your healthcare provider right away and decide if you need the post-exposure prophylaxis. It’s hard to know because bat bites are so minuscule.”
In 2015 a Fremont County woman died of rabies, Wyoming’s first recorded human case. She didn’t know she had a bat bite.
But in the ER at St. John’s Medical Center, Large was told shots could cost $10,000 to $16,000. So he didn’t start treatment, a situation he thinks is “morally not right.”
“Holy crap,” he said. “I don’t have that kind of money. I’m already stuck with the situation of, ‘Do I have rabies?’ and now you’re telling me I pay this or I die?”
Even with his health insurance, Large said he’d pay most, if not all, of that amount through his deductible. He’s unemployed, making matters worse. Large said there needs to be a resource for people in his situation.
Large was told if he had visible bites, which he didn’t, that the insurance company might pay. They also might pay if the bat was rabid, he learned. So on Aug. 31, Large and neighbors went looking for the bat, to no avail.
The more research he did, the more frantic he became. Everyone told him to get shots, but he hesitated.
“If I don’t find this bat, I’m going to have a serious problem financially,” Large said. “I’ll be damned if I didn’t look out my window and see a bat move.”
He threw the bat in Tupperware and took it to Spring Creek Veterinary Hospital on Sept. 1. The bat was euthanized. But the holiday weekend caused a delay in the bat being shipped to the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory for testing.
“So of course, I’m freaking out,” Large said. “I wouldn’t know if it bit me in my sleep, ever. From then, it was just a nightmare. It had to have been there for days.”
When he learned Wednesday the bat tested positive for rabies, he rushed to the hospital to start getting the shots.
“I basically put my life on the line,” Large said. “I gambled it and waited eight days. It’s just a crazy amount of money. People can’t afford this. Apparently it’s a horrible death. It’s something no one would wish upon anyone.”
Now, he waits. The side effects from the shots are similar to those of rabies, Large said, so he’s nervous. If the hospital codes his shots as a medical emergency, his insurance will “probably” cover it. He won’t know until he’s billed.
“People should know — don’t throw the animal away unless you want to pay $16,000,” Large said. “I shouldn’t have waited. I’m sitting here going, ‘Oh God, did I catch it in time?’ ”
[This story has been edited to correct the high threshold of the cost of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. It is $16,000. — Eds.]