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Woman forced to get rabies vaccine after Health Dept. admits bat was "lost"

Posted at 6:51 PM, Sep 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-10 10:58:36-04

TELLER COUNTY — News 5 Investigates uncovered a bat on its way for rabies testing at the state health department's laboratory in Denver was lost in transit.

The mistake forced a Teller County woman who came into contact with the bat to get the rabies vaccine.

Now, she wants the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pay for her medical bills.

There's a good chance Erika Krabbenhoft didn't need the series of shots if lab tests for rabies came back negative, but we'll never know whether the bat had the virus because it was misplaced for 8 days.

By the time CDPHE tracked down the bat, they couldn't get accurate test results.

"I know mistakes happen but this is a mistake that deals with someone's life," Krabbenhoft said.

Krabbenhoft lives in Divide and encountered a bat in her bedroom on Aug. 5 as she was sleeping.

"I'm just laying in bed and I'm hearing it fly across my ceiling," she said. "I didn't know what was going on at first and I felt something go across my face. I felt wind. I thought it was me just breathing so I held my breathe and I felt it fly across my face again and felt the wind from the wings and thought that sucker was in my bedroom. I woke up, flipped on my light and I saw it sitting in the corner of my bedroom."

Krabbenhoft grabbed a plastic container and captured the bat in a corner.

She took it to a nearby animal shelter to be put down. From there, the bat was picked up by the Teller County Health Department and transferred to the El Paso County Health Department.

The bat was then sent to the state lab in Denver on Aug. 6, but the lab didn't get it on time.

Timeline of events:

August 5, 2019: Krabbenhoft captures the bat and turns it over a local animal shelter in Teller County

August 5, 2019: Teller County Public Health picks up the bat and transfers it to El Paso County

August 6, 2019: Courier contracted by the State picks up the bat for transfer to the state lab in Denver

August 6-13, 2019: Bat is missing

August 14, 2019: Bat is located in courier's car; Lab tests not able to be accurately performed

"The condition of this sample is such that tests cannot rule out the presence of rabies virus in the specimen," the lab report showed. "The structural integrity of the skull was compromised, preventing identification of brain tissue type and promoting decomposition."

Teller County public health officials encouraged Krabbenhoft to start the rabies vaccine immediately. Once symptoms of rabies show up, it's already too late.

"That bat could have very well tested negative and I wouldn't have to go through these shots," Krabbenhoft said. "The rabies virus is so fatal, it's protect myself or die."

Krabbenhoft has a series of questions regarding what happened with the bat.

"I want to know what happened to it," she said. "What happened to the paperwork? Why did my case slip through the cracks?"

We took her questions straight to Scott Bookman, the director of lab services for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"After 8 days in the summer, there was a general state of decomposition," he explained.

Bookman says the bat had accidentally been left in the courier's car.

He says his agency only found out about the missing bat when the Teller County Public Health Department called for the results.

Since the request for lab testing was filled out on paper and not on the state's new online system, Bookman they had no idea to expect the bat at the lab.

He adds that if the request for a rabies test was filed electronically instead of on a paper slip, CDPHE would have discovered the missing bat days earlier when they did inventory.

"I think we have an opportunity here to go back and work with our local public health agencies to ensure that they know how to use the lab online system to ensure this doesn't happen again," Bookman said.

Krabbenhoft is now receiving medical bills totaling more than $8,000. While insurance is covering some of those costs, she feels CDPHE should pay for everything.

"I don't think that it's fair I have to pay for shots because they screwed up," she said.

On the same day we interviewed the state lab director and days after we sent our first media inquiry asking about this case, Krabbenhoft received an email alerting her that all costs will be covered.

"She certainly went through a period of anxiety and difficulty of going through these tests and we want to make sure we do everything we can to mitigate what she went through," Bookman said. "Lab leadership in conjunction with the leadership at CDPHE have decided that we will cover all of her unexpected, unanticipated out of pocket medical expenses."

CDPHE also said they would cover the rabies vaccines for her cats.

"Thank you for your patience while we worked through the logistics of all this," CDPHE Micobiology Program Manager Sarah Totten told Krabbenhoft via email on Friday, Sept. 6. " I am happy to let you know that we have received approval to cover your out of pocket medical expenses (and the cats) because of this incident. To make things easier, we are going to make a single payment once all receipts have been provided. So please continue to send these bills to me as you receive them."