Man's ordeal stirs debate on cost of treating rattlesnake bites

LA JOLLA, Calif. - The pain of a man's rattlesnake bite in San Diego is now being felt across the country, and it's not the physical pain.

10News was the first to bring you the story of Todd Fassler, who was bitten by a rattlesnake at the Barona Speedway on July 4.

"He paralyzed my body … My tongue was sticking out, my eyes were to the side," Fassler told 10News.

Fassler was bitten as he was trying to get a selfie with the snake.

While his ordeal hasn't sparked much sympathy, it did lead to national stories published in the New York Times and Washington Post after 10News reporter Dan Haggerty tweeted the eye-opening hospital bill of more than $150,000.

Fassler had depleted two hospitals of its antivenin.


He was trying to take a selfie with a rattlesnake. What he ended up with was a trip to the hospital and one WHOPPER of a doctor bill.

Posted by 10News – ABC San Diego KGTV on Friday, July 17, 2015

In 2012, a UC San Diego student from Norway was bitten on his leg and ended up with a similar hospital bill.

A big reason for the sticker shock is the price of antivenin. An average bite requires about 12 vials.

"Right now, vials cost about $5,000 a piece to the patient," said Dr. Richard Clark, director of UCSD's Poison Control Center. "It takes a lot of resources and development to produce."

Another factor is the lack of competition, as Clark said, "When there is only one producer, their prices tend to be higher."

Clark said a patent infringement lawsuit has stalled one competitor's plans.

Another product just received FDA approval but won't be on the market until late 2018.

"Once there are several companies marketing a drug, the price usually comes down, though it's not a guarantee," said Clark.

In Fassler's case, the hospital and insurance company are going back and forth to determine the final bill.

According to Clark, there are about 100 rattlesnake bites in California each year, and 10 to 12 in San Diego County.


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