Every once in a while I get a nice email. Yesterday was one of those days.
I read your blog about rattlesnake vaccine some time ago and it inspired me to actually run a double blind, controlled study. Attached is the published study. It was published in the AVMA research journal and so it did not receive much attention among clinical veterinarians. A matter of fact no one contacted me regarding the study as I suspect most vets want to keep that revenue stream flowing. The bottom line is that it in totally ineffective against the bite from the most common rattlesnake in California. Feel free to post the study on your site and let me know what you think after you read it. Thanks for your time.
Best regards, James McCabe
Thank YOU James!
James McCabe is the Training Manager at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Division of Laboratory Animal Medicine. He's a real scientist doing real work with real animals.
Before I read his paper I went back and read my original post, which was entitled Snake Oil or Snake Vaccine?
Vaccines are typically working off of T-cell immunity, while rattlesnake venom is a toxin.
Very different things.
Yes, a body can be acclimated to a toxin, but it does not last very long, unlike a traditional vaccine.
A small group of professional snake handlers have been injecting themselves with snake venom for a very long time in order to increase their tolerance in cases of an accidental bite.
The fact that this works is widely known, but the injections have to be done several times a year, and for different species of snakes. Not a huge problem if you are Bill Haast at the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, but not the kind of thing anyone else is doing anywhere in the world.
The canine snake bite "vaccine" that is being sold in America today is simply toxin acclimatization. A small amount of Crotalus Atrox Toxoid is injected into your dog several times over several weeks, and the snake-bite "resistance" that results lasts for six months or less. The shots themselves are not cheap -- they cost about $75 for a pair, and their price will be tacked on to the office visit charge from the vet. Add it all up, and snake vaccines are a small pile of money.
I went on to note that a double-blind study had not been done on the vaccine, which was not FDA-approved so far as I could tell.
From what I can see, the only thing Red Rock Biologics guarantees with their vaccine is that you will get a veterinary bill and they will make a profit.
This is a great little business. After all, this "vaccine" is pretty damn expensive -- about $75 retail. If the vaccine is sold for $40 wholesale, and only 1 percent of the administered dogs are bitten by a venomous snake, and a payout is given to only 2 percent of those dogs (that would be a very high number for reasons I will explain in a minute), and that payout is just $400 (dogs are treated as mere property by the courts)..... well, you do the math.
Now think a moment.
That's just for Red Rock Biologics.
The veterinarian administering this stuff is going to do even better.
You see, not only is your dog going to be sold three initial visits, but it's also going to be sold two or three more visits per year, every year. Wooooooeeeee! But wait, it gets even better.
You see if your dog is ever hit by a rattlesnake, the vaccine will not save you a visit to the veterinarian. So there is no downside for the vet here.
So what did James McCabe and his colleagues find? They found that even with mice, the Red Rock Biologics "rattlesnake vaccine" was completely ineffective for most types of rattlesnake bites in California.
You can read the whole paper >> here.
So why does this "vaccine" do so little? It's pretty simple: the Red Rock Biologics "vaccine" is based on toxins from a species of rattlesnake that is found in only a small, and relatively unpopulated, part of California.
While Red Rock Biologics says their vaccine works on Northern and Southern Pacific rattlesnake bites, they actually offer no evidence to support their claim.
The solid double-blind and published work done by the folks at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA strongly suggests that the Red Rock Biologics claim is bunk.
But does the Red Rock Biologics "vaccine" work to reduce mice mortality from Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes?
But even here that statement has to be qualified with two very big caveats.
The first caveat is that the Western Diamondback is only one of 16 rattlesnake species in the U.S.
It is actually the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake that is most likely to bite dogs and people, and it is the Prairie Rattlesnake which has the largest range.
The second sizeable caveat is that while the bites of all rattlesnake should be taken seriously, the standard for snake bite toxicity is set using something called the LD50 index, which is a standard based on MICE mortality.
Because a snake bite is fatal to a mouse, does not mean it is fatal to a dog or a human.
To put it another way, lightning strikes and honey bee stings kill 20 times more people than all rattlesnake bites combined.
The LD50 snake bite test is simply not very meaningful outside of the world of mice.
As I noted a few years back in a post entitled "Steve Irwin Was a Big Fat Liar,"
[T]here is nothing wrong with the LD50 index. In fact, it's a global standard with guidelines laid down by the World Health Organisation.
But there's something you need to know when it comes to the LD50 test -- it's a test of toxicity in snakes in which individual mice receive equivalent quantities of venom (i.e. each mouse is weighed, and equal amounts of venom are administered by weight).
The LD50 score is the amount of venom administered to each mouse to the point that 50% of the sample die. The lower the LD50 score, the higher the venom toxicity to mice.
Of course, the LD50 score is completely meaningless in the real world. For one thing, not every species of snake administers the same amount of venom when biting. In addition, some kinds of venom are particularly lethal to mice, but virtually harmless to humans and most other animals.
So, to make it simple, venom that will kill a mouse may not be fatal to an animal that is 150, 500, 1,000, or even 10,000 times larger.
To be clear, I am not making light of rattlesnake bites. About half of all rattlesnake bites result in significant venom injection, and these bites almost always result in massive swelling and can also result in some necrotic tissue.
Rattlesnake bites are not a joke.
That said, the Red Rock Biologics "rattlesnake vaccine" is not much better than rain water for most dogs in most locations, including the very part of California where Red Rock Biologics is itself located (Sacramento).
As always, caveat emptor.
Remember that the typical veterinarian is not less -- or more -- honest than the typical car mechanic.
The bottom line on rattlesnake "vaccines" is that they undeniably make money for veterinarians and the folks at Red Rock Biologics. For these folks, the bottom line is the bottom line, and there is no question that there is big money to be made by concern-trolling a gullible customer base.
This is a vaccine that will remove money from your wallet.
But will it save your dog's life or save you any money or worry in the long run?
If you want to do that, keep your dog on a leash, stay on the trails, stay out of the desert May-September, and get a good e-collar to use when practicing snake-aversion training with your dog.