PROVO — When a cloud of bats swirls around a masked crusader during a rescue, it's gripping.

But when they flap through high school hallways or end up dead on school lawns, it's disturbing.

That's the concern of Lehi mother Traci Turner, who recently filed a lawsuit against Alpine School District, alleging that Lehi High School became bat-infested last fall and administrators knew about it without acting.

"The defendant did nothing to warn students

of the severe danger that bats pose to humans and to instruct students to avoid contact with the bats or the bats' after-effects," according to the lawsuit filed last week in 4th District Court.

Turner and her attorney, Matthew Howell, filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son, Chase Jackson, who caught a bat at school in September and played with it for about two hours, showing it to other students.

However, school officials assert that as soon as they learned that hundreds of migratory creatures had nested in their building, they began working with the Utah County Health Department to get rid of them.

"We did inform parents and students of the situation; we let them all know that we would pay for, if any of them felt like they had been exposed, pay for them to get a shot," said Ronda Bromley, spokeswoman for Alpine School District. "We were very proactive as far as our communication with parents and students."

For two weeks, announcements were made on the school's intercom system telling students to not touch any dead bats and if they had, or knew of someone who had, to come talk with teachers.

Seven students approached the school for rabies vaccination compensation and the school paid out $6,818.97, Bromley said.

However, Howell said the first time Turner heard about the bats was when her son brought home a letter from the County Health Department that explained he could be at risk for rabies, "a disease that is fatal if treatment is not begun 'before the disease begins,"' according to the lawsuit.

It's unknown if Jackson was actually bitten or if the bat had rabies. To be safe, he went through the five-shot regimen for rabies exposure.

"You treat either way," said Dr. Joseph Miner, director of the Utah County Health Department. "You don't wait to see if someone gets rabies."

Those who actually start showing symptoms of rabies, which causes central nervous damage and neurological problems, will invariably die, Miner said.

"Because rabies is a fatal disease, the goal of public health is, first, to prevent human exposure to rabies by education and, second, to prevent the disease by anti-rabies treatment if exposure occurs," according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

The site explains that tens of thousands of people are treated each year and only a few die of rabies — usually because people don't realize they've been bitten or they don't understand the risk and thus don't seek medical attention.

Experts say people should not ever touch a bat with their bare hands, especially if it's on the ground or near humans — a signal it is sick and possibly carrying rabies.

If there is contact, the vaccination process costs nearly $2,000, Miner said, and includes five shots of the vaccine in 28 days and one gamma globulin shot.

Howell said the negligence lawsuit has been filed as a class action, meaning other injured students could join in.

"The ... problems in this case are not nearly as serious as they could have been, but they were real problems that people had to deal with," Howell said. "The bigger issue is to get the school district to make sure that our kids are going to school and being educated in a safe environment."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com