By Kathy Keane
Local Wildlife Biologist and Ornithologist
Special to the Town Crier
On July 13 in San Diego, Todd Fasler grabbed a rattlesnake from under a bush and tried to snap a selfie. The snake wasn’t thrilled about the photo, and Fasler received a $153,161.25 hospital bill.
Why so much? Venom toxins vary among rattlesnake species, so emergency rooms carry Cro-FabTM, a one-for-all antivenom (also “antivenin”), billed to patients at more than $2,500 per vial. Cro-FabTM is effective on rattler bites that cause only local symptoms to more serious bites from Idyllwild’s form of Southern Pacific Rattlesnake.
This snake made its debut in the Town Crier last year after two local dogs died within two hours of SPR bites. SPR venom can also put a man, such as an Idyllwild resident that found a snake in his woodpile in June, in the hospital for two days, a relatively short hospital stay for an SPR bite, according to local snake specialist Tracy Philippi.
Dr. William Hayes of Loma Linda University, the expert on our SPR, identified and collected that snake. A Riverside County ordinance prohibits paramedics from administering antivenom, as well as placing a tube to maintain an open airway. (An SPR bite can cause constriction of the trachea.) However, our local paramedics can administer epinephrine, used to treat severe allergic reactions such as airway constriction. Otherwise, suffocation can occur while on the way to any emergency room. (All local ER’s have Cro-FabTM.)
Our Idyllwild snakebite victim may have recovered more quickly had he been aware of these facts and would likely have avoided a bite if he knew that such a dangerous snake is common in Idyllwild; 376 SPR were collected in 2014 for Dr. Hayes. But most Idyllwild residents and visitors who didn’t read the story of an SPR killing my dog Lucky in the June 19, 2014, issue of the Town Crier, are ignorant of our SPR. And rattlesnake warning signs are still absent at local trailheads and campgrounds.
The SPR dog fatalities last summer inspired the creation of Idyllwild Antivenom Group, which purchased several vials of Venom VetTM antivenom (about $220/vial, FDA-approved for dogs but not humans) endorsed by Dr. Hayes. IAG’s interviews with veterinarians in Banning, Hemet and the desert discovered they carry only antivenom to treat common rattlesnake bites, not bites with venom that can fatally affect the nervous and muscle systems. In addition, most vets are unfamiliar with the symptoms of an SPR bite, which may not be visible.
I was told my dog was poisoned, and other Idyllwild dog owners have likely been similarly informed. Dr. Ryan at Banning Veterinary admitted their vets had wondered why so many snake-bitten dogs from Idyllwild die before they reach their facility.
Venom Vet is administered at veterinary facilities generously offered by Sharon Caughron of Living Free Animal Shelter in Mountain Center. (Yes, Animal Rescue Friends have veterinary facilities more conveniently located to Idyllwild, but ARF has never acknowledged IAG).
Dog owners with a snake-bitten dog should call Dr. Lindsay Crowley (951-444-1838) to meet them at Living Free (call first at 951-659-4684) to receive the antivenom intravenously, as well as other treatment to save the dog’s life. IAG is working to recruit other veterinarians to be on-call when Dr. Crowley is busy with another emergency. The Venom Vet antivenom is free, thanks to Idyllwild’s donations to IAG, but dog owners pay Dr. Crowley for her services, and generous donations to Living Free and IAG are encouraged.