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November 1, 1985

More Snakes-Reply

Author Affiliations

Baylor College of Medicine Houston

JAMA. 1985;254(17):2410. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360170049018

In Reply.—  The letters from Barbash and Pollack and from Frazier reflect the confusion in the Bible as to whether the snake represents good (as a symbol of medicine) or evil. It is unlikely that the pole and serpent of Moses were the original source for the symbol of medicine. A more interesting and plausible interpretation of this passage from the Bible is that the Israelites were infected with the guinea enorm, or Dracunculus medinensis, which is still endemic in that area, and that the copper serpent set upon a pole was a model of how the "serpent" should be removed, that is, that it should be wound slowly onto a stick after breaking through the skin. The intense inflammation and secondary infection around the worm causes localized burning and fever, which could logically result in the 3-ft-long worms being called "fiery serpents." Those who "looked upon it," meaning the