Florida Woman Bitten by Stray Kitten Ends up With Almost $50,000 Medical Bill: 'My Funeral Would Have Been Cheaper'

Cat, Rabies
File photo: A vagrant cat is pictured. Jeannette Parker racked up a nearly $50,000 medical bill after a stray cat bit her finger. Getty Images

A Florida woman, 44, wound up with a medical bill of nearly $50,000 after pulling over to help a stray kitten by a road near the Everglades National Park.

Biologist Jeannette Parker had stopped to feed the hungry-looking kitten some tuna from her car when it nipped her finger and broke the skin. Concerned about the cat might carry rabies, she tried to call the health department when she got home.

But the department was closed, so Parker traveled to the emergency room of the nearby Mariners Hospital. She told Kaiser Health News she spent two hours in a local emergency room, receiving two injections and an antibiotic. She said she didn't consult with a doctor.

Parker was shocked when she received a bill of $48,512 for her treatment, which included an injection of rabies immune globulin that helps protect the body from the potentially fatal disease before the vaccine gets to work.

That one injection, her bill revealed, was priced at $46,422—well above the normal cost for such a treatment.

"I thought it was a joke. I just couldn't believe it. It had to be a mistake. That was what I was thinking," Parker recently told NPR-affiliate WLRN. The incident occurred back in September, but came to light via local reporting Tuesday. "I sort of laughed, and I was upset at the same time. Yeah, I couldn't believe it. For a shot, it was $48,000."

"I have never heard anything that high for immune globulin," Charles Rupprecht, an independent biomedical consultant and World Health Organization technical adviser on rabies, told Kaiser. "How is that possible?"

The product—derived from blood donated by people already immunized against rabies—costs an average of roughly $360 per milliliter when sold by wholesalers, the publication noted. The wholesale cost of Parker's 12 ml injection should have been around $4,335.

A spokesperson from Baptist Health South Florida, the hospital chain that runs Mariners, said the $46,422 listing for the rabies immune globulin was correct, and reflected the shot's price at the time.

The hospital later reduced its price to $1,650 per 2 ml—a move that took place before the hospital was required to share its charge list online in January, Kaiser noted.

Parker is insured through the American Postal Workers Union as her husband works at Everglades. After insurance payments, she ended up responsible for $4,191 of the total bill. "My funeral would have been cheaper," she told Kaiser.

In the U.S., suspected rabies exposure is often treated via a series of vaccinations and rabies immune globulin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. If left untreated, the virus affects the central nervous system.

Symptoms include fever and headache, and can eventually progress to partial paralysis, hallucinations and ultimately death.