healthHealth and Medicine

US Marine Attempts To Treat Rattlesnake Bite With Car Battery, Makes Situation Much Worse

"The engine was started and repeatedly revved to 3,000 rpm for approximately five minutes. The patient lost consciousness with the first electrical charge."

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A stock photo model holding up two wires and pretending to be electrocuted.

There are very few conditions you should treat by electrocuting yourself. Image credit: SB Arts Media/

When you are bitten by a snake, it is easy to panic and do something inadvisable. Take for example, the man who cut off his finger following a snake bite only to be told that it was "not necessary at all" as the snake in question was "not that toxic".

But no matter how panicky you get, it is inadvisable to hook yourself up to a car battery and electrocute yourself for a full five minutes, as one bizarre case report makes abundantly clear. In the report, titled "Failure of Electric Shock Treatment for Rattlesnake Envenomation", doctors detail how a man from Arizona tried the unusual method after being bitten by his pet rattlesnake for the 15th time. 


In the report, the team notes that applying high-voltage, low-current electric shocks to rattlesnake bites had been touted as a concept, before receiving a moderate amount of coverage in the media. Evidence in favor of electrocuting snake bite wounds was anecdotal, and it was ineffective when tested on animals. 

Prior to reading about the technique, the 28-year-old snake owner had treated his rattlesnake bites with antivenom, but had reacted badly and gone into anaphylactic shock. This time, when he was bitten on the face by his lip, he had an alternative treatment ready.

"Based on their understanding of an article in an outdoorsman's magazine, the patient and his neighbor had previously established a plan to use electric shock treatment if either was envenomated," the team write in the case report

"The patient was placed supine next to a car, and a spark plug wire was attached to his upper lip by a wire with a small clip at each end. The engine was started and repeatedly revved to 3,000 rpm for approximately five minutes. The patient lost consciousness with the first electrical charge."


Fifteen minutes later, an ambulance arrived on the scene and found him "unconscious and incontinent of stool", with low blood pressure, slowed breathing, and swelling (images of the man's swelling can be viewed here) on his face, neck, and chest.

After being airlifted to hospital, he spent the next four days under close supervision whilst being hooked up to a car battery treated for the bite and subsequent electrocution. After further treatment for serum sickness from the antivenom, he was released, though he returned to hospital for reconstructive surgery after losing tissue in his upper lip.

"Despite many attempts, investigators in the United States have been unable to demonstrate any beneficial effect from electric shock treatment, even when applied under ideal conditions," the team wrote in their discussion, noting that despite this 7,000 stun guns designed to "treat" snakebites had been sold in the US by 1990, before they were banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Because animal studies have not shown a beneficial effect," they conclude, "it is strongly advised that electric shock therapy not be used for the treatment of pit viper poisonings in the United States".


For his troubles, the former US Marine was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize "for his determined use of electroshock therapy – at his own insistence"


healthHealth and Medicine
  • tag
  • venom,

  • snakes,

  • snakebites,

  • electric shock,

  • rattlesnake,

  • electric shocks,

  • weird and wonderful