Getting bit by a snake isn’t high on anyone’s list, especially when the snake in question is a poisonous one without an abundance of antivenom going around. But now there is an experimental serum that has been found to treat 18 different types of snakebites, which could be a huge leap forward.
Each year 94,000 people die of snakebites, with the majority of those happening in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is that there just isn’t enough anti venom to go around, considering that up until know we have had to use specific antivenoms that are targeted to each specific type of snake bite.
The problem with that, is that there are some 600 different species to choose from and if a doctor is going to effectively prescribe an anti venom, they need to know which snake made the bite. It is expensive to stock them all individually, so the access to them is just rather small.
In Africa there has been one multipurpose anti venom that has had some great results with bites from vipers and cobras, but the stock of it is expected to run out completely this year so naturally researchers are scrambling to come up with another solution. Unfortunately that stock is not running out because it isn’t available, but simply because it has not been profitable to the French pharmaceutical company that has been providing it.
However some scientists in Thailand have now come up with this anti venom that works against 18 species of snake found in Asia and Africa, which could be a good alternative. The idea is that being able to treat that many different types of snake bites could make it more profitable, easy to stock, and all around a more viable option.
One of the researchers Kavi Ratanabanangkoon of the Chulabhorn Research Institute in Bangkok has had plenty of personal experience with the snakes.
“I have 15 dogs at my place. Sadly, five of them were killed by cobras. Once in awhile, a 1.5-meter [five-foot] cobra shows up in my garden. The problem is not too far away.”
To come up with the anti venom they had to collect a lot of venom from sometimes rare snakes, which took them a while and cost them money in some circumstances. One the snakes were caught a snake farm run by the Thai Red Cross milked the venom out of the snakes for them.
Next they injected not deadly amounts of the venom into horses and then harvested the antibodies that the horses produced. They tested the anti venom out on some mice and all of them survived. Their results were even better than expected, since not only did it work against the six species of snakes that they used in the study, but it was also effective against venoms from 12 related species that seem to have similar toxins in their venom.
The researchers are hopeful that they will ultimately come up with an antivenom that works against all snakes in the cobra family that are found in both Asia and Africa.