Capsules containing powder made from dried rattlesnake meat can be tainted with bacteria that make them as deadly as the snake’s bite and perhaps should be pulled from the U.S. market, a researcher said on Saturday.
Sold as a popular cure for what ails — it is rumored to treat everything from acne to AIDS —the Hispanic folk remedy has been associated with reports of salmonella poisoning for years. Now, a study has found conclusive evidence.
“We’ve used DNA molecular testing to prove definitively that the salmonella bacteria found in the dried meat was the cause of a life-threatening case of salmonella blood poisoning in a patient treated at our hospital,” John James, a microbial epidemiologist at Children’s Hospital in Denver, said in a statement.
That patient was a child with systemic lupus, a chronic disease of the connective tissue, who contracted salmonella after taking the tainted capsules and survived.
The most common symptoms of salmonella poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. The infection becomes especially deadly if it spreads to the blood.
Rattlesnake meat used in the capsules is typically raw before it is dehydrated and ground into a powder. They are widely found in the United States in Hispanic stores called botanicas that sell alternative medicines, the researcher said.
“Unfortunately, the rattlesnake capsules ... are often given to people whose immune systems already are compromised,” said James, who presented his findings at a meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in Baltimore.
He said he also found the bacteria in four additional batches of rattlesnake capsules purchased at the same botanica.
He said many salmonella cases — even deadly ones — have been linked to the capsules, and he urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require makers of the product to irradiate the rattlesnake meat, an inexpensive way to kill the bacteria.
Short of that, he urged the agency to take steps to ban the product.