CDC Links Salmonella Case in Kansas to Rattlesnake Pills

rattlesnake salmonella pills
Rattlesnakes fill a viewing pit during the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup at Nolan County Coliseum? in Sweetwater, Texas on March 10, 2018. The CDC announced May 3 that pills made from dried rattlesnake meat were likely responsible for a case of Salmonella in Kansas after pills found in Texas tested positive for a genetically similar strain of the bacterium. LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images

Rattlesnake pills may have caused two cases of Salmonella in Kansas and Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday. The pills, made of dried and ground-up snake meat, are often advertised as a folk remedy "treatment" for cancer, HIV and acne. Newsweek previously reported on one of the two cases included in Thursday's update.

The patient in Kansas, whose gender and age was not specified in the report, said they had taken five of the pills. Unfortunately, they only had five—which meant epidemiologists couldn't test a sample of the pills for the bacterium. However, a strain of Salmonella found in rattlesnake pills by Texas' public health department is a close genetic relative to the strain found in the Kansas patient. The genetic signatures mean it's "likely that the Kansas patient became ill from the consumption of rattlesnake pills."

Rattlesnake pills aren't the only place Salmonella can lurk. The bacterium can also be found on food and on other kinds of animals, including eggs and tiny turtles. Symptoms include a fever and stomach issues, like diarrhea and cramps. Very old and very young people are particularly vulnerable, as are people whose immune systems are weak because of an autoimmune condition or cancer treatments.

Other Salmonella outbreaks in the past have also been linked to these pills, but this is the first time this particular kind of Salmonella has been found. Though the risk of Salmonella contamination may seem small, the agency warned that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate rattlesnake pills in the same way it regulates traditional drugs.

"Persons choosing to take rattlesnake pills, especially persons at higher risk for severe Salmonella infections, should be aware of the risk for salmonellosis associated with their consumption," scientists from state and federal agencies wrote in their summary. "Consultation with a licensed health care provider to discuss potential risks and benefits is recommended before taking any supplements."