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$55,000 Snake Bite Has Uninsured Maryland Woman Jules Weiss Searching For Options; Anti-Venom Costs More Than Open Heart Surgery

Clone of copperhead
Jules Weiss racked up $55,000 in hospital fees for a snake bite that required three doses of anti-venom, the costliest portion of any snake bite treatment. Flickr, Axel.Foley

Jules Weiss thought she was stung by a bee, until she noticed not one but two puncture wounds on the side of her foot. She saw a liquid oozing out, and within the hour her foot ballooned and turned blue. But after receiving three doses of anti-venom at the hospital, the scariest part of Weiss’s ordeal was the $55,000 bill she received.

Weiss, one of about 48.6 million uninsured Americans, says her biggest regret in getting bitten wasn’t even the bite at all. It’s that she has to rely on the hospital’s financial assistance program to pay back the exorbitant debt she incurred from her treatment. According to Suburban Hospital’s website, the treatment Weiss received is nearly three times as expensive as a knee replacement and almost $15,000 costlier than open heart surgery.

Weiss had pulled to the side of the road on Thursday to get a breath of fresh air and snap a picture of the nearby overlook when the snake sunk its fangs into Weiss’s foot.

“It’s not a number I can really wrap my head around,” Weiss, a former emergency medical technician, told NBC4 of her $54,819.34 hospital bill. “I guess they have some ability to be flexible with it, but I’ll be looking into getting financial assistance.”

Weiss’s copperhead bite sits beside a host of other snake attacks for which people have faced outrageous bills. In 2012, a University of California San Diego student racked up $143,989 in hospital bills for receiving 10 doses of anti-venom following a rattlesnake bite.

"I thought maybe $10,000," Dag-Are Trydal told NBC10, noting that the same treatment in his home country of Norway would’ve been free. “This is way too much, at least for a person that doesn't have good insurance.”

Both Weiss and Trydal recalled a similar reaction to seeing their bills, almost as if a second snake had bitten them.

"I kind of went numb,” Weiss said. “I don't know if there's a way to process that.”

"My jaw was dropping down,” Trydal noted.

Treatments for snake bites are so costly because the process of milking a snake for its venom is lengthy and complex. Anti-venom routinely comprises the largest portion of the overall cost.

However, Weiss noted that she is grateful to have avoided an even greater cost.

“There’s always that chance that, had I waited, 12 hours later I could’ve had kidney failure,” she said.

Copperhead snake bites are typically non-fatal in humans, although the chances increase in pets and smaller animals. In the United States, about 12 people die per year from snakebites.

The estimated chance of dying from a snake bite while outdoors is 1:10,000,000.

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