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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Rise in snake bites inspires student venom study

A rise in serious cases involving rattlesnakes in Cochise County led three UA students to study just how lethal one snake’s venom is.

As Part of their senior year project at the College of Pharmacy, students Kelvin Richards and Ryan Curtis teamed up with Daniel Massey, Pharmacy resident at University Medical Center. By Studying the Mohave rattlesnake, the most common species in Cochise County, and comparing it with Pima County’s they will determine if those Mohave rattlesnakes venom is becoming increasingly potent.  

The research began in July, and is a project Massey has wanted to do for three years. “”It’s a personal passion of my own,”” Massey said. “”I’ve been collecting snakes… I have pictures since I was 10 years old with rattlesnakes.”” He met the students through the Arizona Poison and Drug Control Information Center, which is supporting the collaborative research.

The venom of 19 Mohave rattlesnakes have been collected by a third party which provides them with the GPS location of the animals in order to make sure the snakes are from the area they are examining.

The team is transforming the venom samples into powder before shipping it to Texas A&M University and Spain, where other phases of the study will be conducted.

The increasing number of rattlesnake encounters prompted the study.

These encounters were resulting in longer hospital stays and worse lab out comes, according to Richards.

In some cases, “”it took two or three times as long to stabilize the patient”” than it did in the past, Richards said.

They believe a change in the Mohave species’ venom to be the culprit behind the increase in severe cases.

In clinical cases the species of snake can’t really be verified to be match to the Mohave or not, although the team believes it so, because of its common aspect.

“”Nobody comes in with a snake, nobody comes in with a pitcher, so you don’t know,”” Massey said.

If it turns out the venom has actually intensified; they hope to educate the population on the snake’s graver risks. Despite the increase in danger, the treatment at this point would still be the same.

The study should be completed by next July, close to when Massey’s resident project is due. On the research’s complexity and depth for a senior project, Curtis said

“”If we’re gonna spend time doing our senior project … we might as well try to do something that’s worth it.””

The team has plans to publish their results, along with the other collaborators.

“”These guys had a very big interest in not doing something simple, but taking it to the next level. And doing something much more complex, with some potential good outcomes to come from this,”” said Keith Boesen, managing director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, and advisor to the students.

According to him, Arizona has by far the highest rates of rattlesnake envenomations in the country per capita. Per year, around 400 rattlesnakes bites are accounted for in the state, although there have only been two deaths in the last 10 years.

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