Monday, November 15, 2010

Snake Antivenom Shortage

Genesis 14 God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every animal of the field. On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel."
- World English Bible

On October 31st of this year, the US was scheduled to run out of antivenom for coral snake bites. The sole US manufacturer of the antivenom, Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer), stopped making the drug back in 2003 since, with fewer than 100 coral bites per year, there was no money to be made with this product. Before they shut down the factory, Wyeth made a five year supply to last through 2008. When no new supplier entered the US market, the FDA tested the drug and extended the expiration date to 2009 and then again extended to Oct 31, 2010.

Now the FDA has authorized a third extension for 2011. BUT there may not be 100 does left to last the next year. Hospitals are keeping mum on how much they have left out of fear that their last few doses will be transferred elsewhere.

Corals are the deadliest snakes native to the U.S. They inject a potent neurotoxin by grabbing hold of their prey and gnawing for 20 to 30 seconds with their little teeth. The bite and the poison cause little pain initially, but within hours victims experience slurred speech, droopy eyelids, and eventually the lungs shutdown. Without antivenom victims usually need to be placed on a ventilator or they die.
Corals can be found across the entire southern US from Kentucky, through the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, all of Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The US varieties are most notable for their red, yellow/white, and black colored banding. There some non-poisonous mimic snakes that look like corals but have a different banding pattern:
If red touches yellow - it kills a fellow 
If red touches black, it is a friend of Jack (or it poison lacks)
Bottom Line

The VIPER institute at the University of Arizona is working with the FDA for approval of an antivenom from a Mexican manufacturer. However this won't be easy and will take time. In the meantime - avoid colorful snakes!

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