Why on Earth? Serpent handlers.
How do the serpent handlers of the Deep South avoid getting themselves killed?
The simple answer is that they don’t, always: more than 70 snake-related deaths have been recorded among members of fundamentalist congregations who routinely handle highly venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths as a demonstration of their faith.
That is a significant number, since there are probably only a couple of hundred active participants in the ritual, most of them living in Virginia and Tennessee. Serpent handling takes its inspiration from Mark 16:18 - ‘They shall take up serpents’. Bible scholars believe that the original New Testament Greek ‘take up’ can be translated as ‘remove’ or ‘destroy’, but believers see it as a command to be taken literally. Since the passage goes on: ‘If they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them’, they have been known to swig poisons such as strychnine too.
Contrary to popular belief, serpent handlers do not ‘milk’ their snakes of venom before picking them up - to do so would make a mockery of the ritual as a test of faith. Nor does it appear that they build up immunity to bites - tests have shown that the short period of incubation for snake venom (2 to 15 minutes) is simply not conducive to the production of antibodies, which are normally designed to resist diseases which take 14 to 21 days to incubate.
It seems most snake handlers are regularly bitten, and that they generally escape death largely because few snakes eject the full contents of their venom sacs when they strike. Of the 8,000 or so people bitten by snakes in a typical year, only a dozen or so die, which from a scientific point of view suggests the serpent handlers are simply riding their luck.