Many antidotes to snake venom do not work as well as they might

The serpent’s tale

NO GENUS of snakes kills more people and causes more economic damage than Echis. Saw-scaled vipers, to give the group’s common name, are found in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Their venom makes blood clot, bringing agonising death. Victims are often farm workers who support entire households, so an attack can plunge a family into poverty.

Antivenoms—chemicals that reverse or blunt the effects of a snake’s toxin—are standard medicines in areas where bites are common. But a study led by Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland, in Australia, which has just been published in Toxicology Letters, has found a problem: against many snake populations, these medicines do not work.

Antivenom production, which was pioneered in the 19th century by Albert Calmette, a student of Louis Pasteur, involves extracting venom from snakes and injecting it into animals, such as horses, that…Continue reading

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