By Shelley Marsden
A GROUP of scientists led by researchers from Trinity College Dublin, together with the California Academy of Sciences, have taken a promising step towards developing a universal antidote for snakebite.
Their research may lead the way to providing a fast, accessible way to administer treatment and increase survival rates in victims of venomous snakebites.
The scientific team examined the use of a nasally administered common hospital drug, neostigmine, on mice injected with high doses of Indian cobra venom.
Mice injected with otherwise fatal doses of venom outlived those that didn’t receive the treatment – and in many cases survived after being treated with the antiparalytic agent, neostigmine.
Almost 5 million people are bitten by snakes each year with between 94,000 to 125,000 deaths occurring as a result. Global fatalities are up to 30 times that of land mines and in India alone snakes kill approximately a third as many people as AIDS and severely injure many more.
Traditionally, the international treatment for neurotoxic snakebites is with antivenom, administered in a hospital via injection, and/or the WHO recommended neostigmine, also administered via injection.
But most snakebites occur in impoverished, rural populations with limited access to medical treatment and it has been estimated that more than 75 percent of snakebite victims who die do so before they ever reach the hospital, predominantly because there is no easy way to treat them in the field.
For those who do manage to receive successful treatment, studies have shown that the costs of hospital treatment can cause economic ruin for the individual and their family with many patients reporting taking loans, removing their children from school and incurring up to 12 years income worth of debt.