Arizonans look forward to shaking their plastic rattles during DBacks games this summer. Arizonans should run the other way when they hear the rattling of real diamondbacks. Unfortunately, many people do not, resulting in more challenges for Dr. Steven Curry. Dr Curry is a Physician Toxicologist , Director of Medical Toxicology Department for Banner University Medical Center, and a Professor of Medicine at UA College of Medicine. On May 6, he explained why 250-300 Arizonans get bit each year and the “Medical Effects of Rattlesnake and Gila Monster Bites” to a public audience at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix.
There are five families of poisonous snakes worldwide. The most common members of the viperidae family (who have mobile front fangs) in Arizona are the Western Diamondback and Mohave rattlesnakes. There was a lot of wincing and groaning, but also fascination, among audience members, as Dr. Curry showed graphic, grisly photos of people who had been bit by poisonous snakes.
While Curry provided interesting facts about the snakes’ physiology (e.g., a detached rattlesnake’s head can keep biting people for up to an hour), he spent most of the time detailing the composition of venom and the different effects on the human body. Venom is surprisingly complicated, comprised of various enzymes, metals, proteins, lipids and other components, which can lead to swelling, tissue and muscle damage, pain, hemorrhaging, neurotoxicity, kidney failure, shock, paralysis, collapse, low blood pressure, asphyxiation, and death.
Gila monsters have no mobile fangs, but pit-bull-like grips. Pain, swelling and respiratory problems are common, but not as much tissue damage or chance of death.
Most interesting was learning who gets bit. Eighty-seven percent are men and most were provoking the snakes. Of these, half have been drinking. Arizona has the highest per-capita deaths in the US. While usually not fatal, not only are the medical consequences serious; they are expensive. Over 20 vials of anti-venom at $2900/vial (hospital’s cost) may be needed.
Most important was Dr. Curry’s advice for those bitten. “Throw away your snake bite kit,” he said. He recommended doing nothing (no ice, cutting, sucking, tourniquets, etc.), but rushing to the emergency room.
This presentation was just a sample of the interesting lectures that are part of U of A’s Mini-Medical School series, which are on the first Wednesday of every month. The next series of lectures start on September 2, 2015.