Stark rise in bites by poisonous snakes in Dixie
The typical cost of a rattlesnake bite on an adult is from $125,000 to $225,000. A rattlesnake bite on a child can run up to $2.6 million.
The Southeastern Regional Poison Control Center in Atlanta announced today that so far in 2017, there has been a 50% increase in bites by poisonous snakes in the Southeastern United States over last year. That is particularly concerning because there was a record number of poisonous snake bites here in 2016. By far, the biggest increase has been bites by Copperhead Snakes . . . also called Highland Moccasins. Atlanta area hospitals treated two Copperhead bites in January 2017. This is unheard of, since Copperheads normally hibernate in the winter.
What really has forest rangers, doctors and biologists concerned is that an increasing percentage of rattlesnakes have non-functioning rattles or else don’t rattle them prior to making a strike. Scientists believe that this is the result of un-natural selection. Rattlesnakes that rattle to warn humans are much more likely to be killed by humans.
POOF put this news in the humor column to get featured attention, but it is no laughing matter. One vile of Copperhead, Water Moccasin or Rattlesnake anti-venom is $20,000 these days in the United States. It was $14,000 a vile in 2015. Coral Snake anti-venom is now $30,000 to $40,000 a vial. Treatment for the bite by a poisonous pit viper requires around 5-6 vials of anti-venom for an adult . . . many more for a child. Add in all the fees that hospitals throw into bills these days and you have a situation that will instantly bankrupt a family, who does not have the best of heath insurance.
Fifteen years ago, the price charged by hospitals for a vial of anti-venom averaged about $100 a bottle. It is still that price in Mexico for anti-venom manufactured in the United States. Why the grotesque difference in the cost of a snake bite in the United States and Mexico? One gets a lot of double-talk from the drug industry and federal administrators, but obviously “something” happened between 2000 and 2017.
During the George W. Bush Administration, federal regulations were changed for the manufacture and pricing of drugs charged to hospital patients. Now there is only one company in the United States, BTG, licensed to manufacture an anti-venom for American pit vipers. The product is called Cro-Fab.
After introduction of Cro-Fab in 2001, BTG began acquiring all the labs, which were its competition and then steadily raising the price of Cro-Fab to pay for those corporate acquisitions. BTG produces a very effective anti-venom, but it also now has a monopoly.
Why the stark increase in snake bites?
Scientists are not certain why the aggressiveness of poisonous snakes in Dixie has paralleled the inflation in the coast of Cro-Fab. X-Files “believers” think that the investors in BTG, who are making phenomenal profits, have spread a virus over the United States via passenger jet contrails, which makes poisonous snakes mean-spirited. The United States has become so corrupt in recent years, anything seems possible . . . but this conspiracy theory would be difficult to prove.
Much more down-to-earth is the theory by biologists that the drastic decline in the number of frogs and toads has made poisonous snakes hungry. There was very little rainfall in the Southeast from August to late November 2016. That would have reduced the populations of mice, frogs, toads, lizards and chipmunks. They theorize that the snakes were ill-tempered because they were hungry.
The problem with that theory is that this spring the Southeast is receiving plenty of rainfall. There should be fewer snake bites, if lack of food was the cause of snake aggression. However, the opposite situation has occurred. Attacks by poisonous snakes have skyrocketed this spring.
How to reduce the chances of being bit
I learned an important lesson about hiking in the woods at age 11. There were 16 of us Boy Scouts from Troop 26 in Gainesville, GA . . . hiking the Appalachian Trail for two weeks. We were having a grand ole time, yapping away as we were climbing Blood Mountain. The three guys in front of me did not notice the Timber Rattler on the trail and it was NOT rattling. When it became my turn to not notice the snake, it struck at my boots. Back then all hiking boots were thick leather so the fangs did not reach my skin. Close call . . . but a lesson was learned.
Over the past seven years I have noticed that Copperheads are increasingly aggressive, whereas they used to be not aggressive at all. I have also seen several rattlesnakes that didn’t rattle. That really spooked me. In April of 2015 a copperhead bit my female herd dog on the throat while we were walking across a section of grass at a nearby resort that needed mowing. In the good ole days, copperheads would never be in such areas that were frequented by humans.
Last spring, an elderly lady living near me, almost died from a Copperhead bite. She was merely picking green beans in her garden and the snake was hiding behind a bean bush, waiting for a field mouse to come by. Unfortunately, she had not kept her rows of beans weeded so the snake was completely concealed before biting her on the wrist. She started passing out before she realized that she needed to go to the hospital. Living alone, it took awhile for her neighbors to realize that something was amiss.
In response, I have radically changed my outdoor recreation patterns during the period between the last frost and the first frost. I do all of my daily hiking on unpaved country lanes or logging trails. I don’t go into dense vegetation . . . the woods around here are essentially temperate jungles . . . and definitely do not explore remote stone ruins in the warm months. Both Copperheads and Timber Rattlers love stacks of stone.
Here are some other basic, common sense rules to follow:
- Never put your hand or your foot anywhere that you can’t see it or what’s around it.
- Always look on the back side of a dead log before stepping over it.
- Keep your lawn mowed and your garden free of dense weeds.
- Never go into a crawl space under the house without a bright flashlight, which fully illuminates all of the surface of the crawl space.
- Keep your house and yard free of mice and rats. All snakes will be attracted to locations with large rodent populations.
- Never hike during warm weather on paths that are bordered by dense foliage or tall grass.
- Continually scan the hiking path ahead and both sides while on a hike. One lapse of attention could cost you a bundle of money at the hospital and possibly your life.
Doctors now believe that snake bite kits are ineffective. They say that one should head to the hospital as soon as possible, when bit by a poisonous snake, but unfortunately, that is not always possible.
It’s a jungle out there, folks!
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