Rattlesnake venom is a complex combination of enzymes, proteins, metal ions and other biomolecules. It is very stable and can be stored for years without losing potency. All rattlesnakes have venom that can destroy tissue and prevent blood clotting. A few varieties have an additional component that causes severe paralysis, called Mojave type A toxin. The tiger rattlesnake has the highest venom toxicity of all snakes in the western hemisphere, due to this extra neurotoxic component.
Snake milkers actually extract this venom in order to make antivenom and other medicines. In a serpentarium, venomous snakes are encouraged to bite through latex stretched over the mouth of a jar, and the venom glands are massaged mechanically or with electrical stimulation.
Venom is also being used in treatments for strokes and malignant tumors. But treatment for a rattlesnake bite can be very expensive, at least in the US, where ludicrous medical costs are the norm. Hospitals pay over $2,000 for a small vial of antivenom. Why so much?
Even though the venom must be injected over and over into a sheep or horse, and the antibodies harvested, this time consuming process only accounts for a tenth of one percent of the final cost, including research and development, harvesting, animal care and bottling! 30% of the cost is attributable to clinical trials, licensing fees, office and regulatory costs. The rest is all markup from the hospital for insurance companies. So in the US, someone may have to shell out over $10,000 dollars for a vial of antivenom that would cost a couple hundred bucks at most in Mexico. The mexican government purchases massive amounts of antivenom at wholesale prices, which gets distributed to clinics and hospitals around the country.
Rattlesnake bites can be brutal!
You can buy antivenom online, if you have the money and foresight to do so before you get bitten. Snake bite kits only help slow down the process, but the antivenom is required to prevent death. An adult would have up to 24 hours to get treated, but children can succumb much faster. It may be a good idea to have some antivenom ready to go if you are in an area where rattlesnakes are found. However, you have to have the right anti-venom for the snake, and it is necessary to receive multiple doses of it over the course of days to weeks. A doctor will also treat and debride the wound. If there is a neurotoxin involved, a ventilator may be necessary. So if you do get bitten, you may have to bite the bullet and pay the outrageous hospital bill!