Snake bites should not be underestimated, say experts

11/23/05

Treatment of bites by adders and exotic venomous snakes BMJ Volume 331, pp 1244-7

Life threatening snake bites are uncommon in the UK but can happen, especially in children, and should not be underestimated, says an expert in this week's BMJ.

Antivenom, the only specific antidote is underused in the UK.

As well as bites by the UK's only indigenous venomous snake, the adder, doctors should also be aware that large numbers of dangerous snakes are kept surreptitiously as macho pets, writes Professor David Warrell. This "underground zoo" reveals itself a few times each year when bitten owners are forced to seek medical help.

Envenoming can evolve over many hours, so patients must be carefully observed in hospital for at least 24 hours after being bitten, he says. Antivenom is effective and safe, but is currently underused in the UK.

Treatment for exotic venomous snake bites may be more challenging than for adder bites, and it may be difficult to establish which species was involved and so obtain the appropriate antivenom, he concludes.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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