The Main Stream

Jul 14, 2010 6:17 PM

Snake anti-venom in serious shortage

TUCSON - There's a serious shortage of anti-venom for a venomous snake and it's not a rattlesnake. It is the Coral snake and the supply for the entire country will expire in October.

The University of Arizona has a huge role in developing a new vaccine and this is the only place in the country that can solve the problem.

"Snakes are not aggressive. They don't chase people down. Snakes are highly defensive."

Stephane Poulin handles lots of snakes at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Poulin is the Curator for Herpetology, Ichthyology, and Invertebrate Zoology.

He's showing a Western Diamond-back rattler a venomous snake common in our area. He tells us most people get bit when they encounter a snake near their home and try to move it.

"They do it themselves instead of relying on professional people to take care of the animal."

The Desert Museum has been working with the VIPER Institute at the University of Arizona.

"In the U.S., our most important shortage right now involves coral snakes."

Dr. Leslie Boyer is the director at the VIPER Institute. Coral snakes are found in the southern states from Arizona to Florida.

Prior to 1967 when the U.S. started to keep supplies of anti-venom, 15% of the people bit by a coral snake died.

Dr. Boyer explains, "With anti-venom you can prevent the paralysis and the need for a breathing machine that are the reason people sick enough to die in the past."

So how does Arizona fit in? Researchers say it's because of all the scorpions stings in our state and we have the highest number of snake bites in the country.

"When you put all that together, the University of Arizona, and it's health sciences center, are absolutely in a unique position to develop anti venoms in the past.

Dr. Boyer shows an example; the bark scorpion responsible for, "maybe 200 or 300 children a year in Arizona being sick enough to need intensive care," she says.

The coral snake anti-venom is gathered from horses in Mexico using the same process as the scorpion anti-venom. Researchers at the U of A have experience with the FDA, manufacturers and organizing doctors.

"So we're going to be the center point for a nation wide study."

For more information you can visit the VIPER Institute website at the link below.

http://www.viper.med.arizona.edu/

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