By Anders Nielsen, Ph.d.
The most common antivenin is the Wyeth (Crotalidae) Polyvalent antivenin. It is obtained from animal blood and is serum globulins (antibodies from blood) in a concentrated form. The most common animal used for this serum are horses that have been immunized through a small amount of injected venom.
Their immune systems will produce antibodies to combat the venom (natural immune response). The antibodies are then harvested from the horse in a concentrated form so that it can act quickly to neutralize venom in a person bitten by a snake.
Antivenin is divided into two types: monovalent and divalent antivenin. The monovalent antivenin is only useful against one specific species whereas the divalent covers venom from several types of snakes.
In Asia where bites from Cobras are much more common than in the USA, the antivenin is not available in most places and many cobra victims are unable to retrieve the antivenin in time to survive.
Florida Antivenom Bank
What happen if someone is bitten by a venomous snake and is in dire need of receiving antivenom?
It can happen to anyone – whether it be a breeder, someone working in a Zoo, someone working in the venom bank itself, or just accidently out in the wild.
Accidents happen, and they actually happen more frequently than one would think. In Florida, the state in the US with most venomous snakes bites, have their own antivenom bank. It’s the only bank of its type, and it is administrated by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
There are many words for antivenom, particularly antivenin, and antivenim, and they are used in different contexts. Antivenin is the oldest, and the first word used in the medical literature – antivenim is just a variation of that word. The most correct word to use is probably antivenom serum, as this is actually what it really is, a serum.
The antivenom bank is notified by emergency departments, hospitals and poison centers whenever someone is bitten by a venomous snake. Soon after, the appropriate venom is then dispatched to the hospital where the victim is being treated.
This is also the case for people bitten outside Florida, and in fact also outside the US, but still in North America.
The antivenom bank has made an arrangement with American Airlines that are ready to take antivenom with them on the first flight available. They are met by rescue officials in the other end.
One can obtain an antivenom index from the AZA (Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums). It contains of list of all antivenom serums available from this bank.
The Florida antivenom was started as a private project, and after many years of developing the project on a private basis. First in 1996 they were able to actually deliver antivenom serum when asked for it.
Currently, the antivenom bank is a bureau governed by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, and is not a private company any more.
The antivenom serum produced is for treatment of bites from venomous pitvipers (divalent type) and a monovalent type serum against coralsnakes bites. The difference is that the divalent type can be used against more than one type of venomous snake bite.
Allergic reactions, often experienced with serum from horses, are gradually mitigated by replacing old antivenom serum with antivenom serum from goats. The number of allergic reactions is smaller when the antivenom is from goats. Also, some of the antivenom serum available is imported from Costa Rica, such as antivenom against coral snake bites.
Florida is presumably the state in the US with the most venomous bites. Most are bites on people that are not licensed to keep venomous snakes. All the people that are licensed to keep venomous snakes seem to be more careful, at least they are bitten less often. In the wild, most bites in Florida are from coral snakes, pygmy rattlesnakes and diamondbacks.
The antivenom bank claims that they have a 100% recovery rate of people treated with antivenom from their bank.
Prevention of snakes and snake traps
Some people living in areas with high populations of venomous snakes finds it useful to take measures to prevent snakes from entering into their homes and slither around in their gardens. Also, kids are curious and may not have the same respect for snakes as adults and may not flee when they encounter a snake.
Today, most snake traps are designed to hold onto any snake as it slithers over the trap. Baits are not used as bait traps has proved rather ineffective. Instead most traps are based on glue that holds onto the snake.
Success depends on the location of the trap and how it is set up. The trap must be placed a place the snake is likely to pass such as a place near an edge of some sort as snakes prefer to slither along edges.
The best option might be to catch the snake when you see it. A professional can do this and there are professional companies specializing in removing snakes from people?s backyards and taking appropriate measures (setting up snake traps) to prevent snakes from entering your home.
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