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New snakebite treatment in development at University of Arizona

New snakebite treatment in development at University of Arizona

by Christopher Silavong, The Republic | azcentral.com April 14, 2016

Researchers at University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Tucson are developing a new snakebite treatment that could delay or minimize the effects of snake venom on the human body.

The treatment has yet to go to clinical trials, but developers envision that it would aid patients who are miles from the closest medical facility.

“The treatment might be stocked in ambulances, or included in first-aid kits for campers and hikers,” said Dr. Vance G. Nielsen, a professor and vice chair of research for UA’s Department of Anesthesiology.

Nielsen started developing the product a year ago with the goal to prevent or delay a dangerous result of rattlesnake bites: destruction of fibrinogen, a protein that enables blood to clot. Loss of fibrinogen increases the risk of bleeding within the body.

“People may not die from that, but they may have bleeding into their brain or intestine, and they may require transfusions,” Nielsen said. “They may have a lot of serious consequences because of that bleeding.”

According to the UA College of Medicine, the treatment consists of a combination of carbon monoxide and iron, which – if given soon enough after the bite – could block the venom’s effects, preserving fibrinogen and allowing blood to clot.

Collaborating with Nielsen on the product is toxicologist Dr. Leslie Boyer, founding director of the UA VIPER Institute (http://viper.arizona.edu/) and associate professor of pathology, who develops anti-venom treatments for snakebite and scorpion stings.

“I’m delighted to be part of this innovative approach that may lead to a better outcome for patients,” Boyer said in the statement.

With snakebites, Arizona Drug and Poison Information Center director Dr. Keith Boesen said there are three main things that happen to humans:

1. A localized injury from the bite where the digestive enzymes of the venom take effect immediately. This will cause swelling and start tissue death.
2. The venom will prevent the blood from clotting and bruising will occur.
3. Some snake venom can affect the nervous system.

Boesen adds that if a patient is on blood thinners and is bitten by a rattlesnake, it complicates matters because doctors would have to find a good medium in treating the venom without counteracting blood thinners too much. A similar situation happened to a California man who was in the valley to watch spring training (http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/southwest-valley/2016/03/07/arizona-spring-training-fan-bitten-rattlesnake/81452866/).

There are an estimated 8,000 rattlesnake bites a year but deaths are rare from the venom alone, Phoenix Herpetological Society President Russ Johnson said.

There are an estimated 8,000 rattlesnake bites a year but deaths are rare from the venom alone, Phoenix Herpetological Society President Russ Johnson said.

Unless you have an underlying medical issue, very few humans die from rattlesnake venom, Johnson said.

“About 10 people die a year from rattlesnakes,” he said. “If you are healthy, the venom won’t likely kill you. It’s rare because of our size.”

Johnson said to not apply a tourniquet if you are bitten in the hand by a rattlesnake and should take off any jewelry and raise your hand above your head and let the venom go through your body.

“It will hurt like hell,” he said.

This is because trapping the venom at the bite location will eat away the tissue, causing necrosis, according to Johnson.

Although you are not likely to die from the venom alone, you should seek medical attention.

“Some patients who got bit in the hand don’t have the same strength as they used to,” Boesen said.

Boesen explained that getting treated with anti-venom can stop an injury from progressing.

If you are bitten in the finger, the pain would spread to the hand, move up the arm and into the shoulders, and getting treated with anti-venom would prevent that from happening.

“The pain could stay in the finger,” he said.

Rattlesnake venom can have a long-term effect on the body, and that is why it is important to seek treatment, Boesen said.

Boesen encouraged anyone interested in learning more about rattlesnake venom to call the Poison Help line at 800-222-1222.




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