No friend of Jack: Antivenin for coral snake bites in short supply

Coral snakes, which possess one of the most potent venoms of any North American snake, could reside in your backyard. But what unsuspecting people may not realize is that the antivenin used to counteract this snake’s bite is in critically low supply.

Even though the chances of being bit are low, due to the non aggressive nature of the species, the bite of the coral snake itself is now considered more dangerous due to the limited amount of antivenin currently available in the United States.

The antivenin in stock was set to expire at the end of October 2010, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the date until another source of the antivenin can be found.

The company that makes the antivenin, Coralmyn, has stated it would take more than $5 million to $10 million to research a new synthetic antivenin. It was cost prohibitive due to the small number of coral snake bites each year, so production processes slowed down substantially. Foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers, however, such as those in Mexico, produced other coral snake antivenins, but the costs associated with licensing them in the United States stalled availability here.

“We use Coralmyn here, and they are trying to manufacture more,” said Chief Al Cruz, founder of Dade Fire Rescue’s Venom Response Unit for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “Let’s hope they do soon.”

Although antivenin is not as readily available, Deputy Fire Chief of Special Operations Michael Swanson, of North Naples Fire District, emphasized firefighters response remains the same for any venomous snake bite they respond to.

“Once we realize it is a venomous snake bite, we treat them all the same. Coral snakes are adapted to eating frogs and amphibians, so their fangs are recessed in their heads. So they would have to chew on a place where skin is relatively thin,” said Swanson.

Treat the wound as soon as possible if bitten by a coral snake, Swanson suggests.

“The first thing, is if it is a coral snake bite, wash the area with soap and water. The person needs to irrigate the wound right away, because the fixed fangs cannot penetrate the skin as deep as a rattlesnake’s retractable fangs, and activate the emergency system by calling 911 immediately, because neurotoxin venom is not something you want to mess with. It could quickly compromise your breathing,” Swanson warned.

“Forget about all the poems and rhymes about coral snakes. If you don’t know what the snake is, then don’t touch it,” said Swanson.

“Most people bitten by a coral snake are children and landscapers, and people who are snake handlers. If people are wearing proper hand and foot protection, then they are most likely not going to be bitten,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s unit responds to North, Central and South Florida, and covers the whole nation whenever antivenom is needed for a snake bite victim. “The reason children like coral snakes so much is because they are so colorful,” Cruz noted.

“In 2006, a person died due to a coral snake bite, because he didn’t get treatment soon enough,” recalled Cruz. He was referring to a coral snake bite in Bonita Springs, where a coral snake bit 29-year-old Fenerndo Hernandez, who was drinking in the woods with friends near the railroad tracks in Old Bonita. Due to the amount of alcohol in Hernandez system, he did not immediately seek medical attention, and it was later determined by a medical doctor that Hernandez died due to injuries sustained with the venom of the number of coral snake bites on Hernandez’s arm.

Unlike rattlesnakes, coral snakes are not in the “pit viper” family. According to Cruz, “you can have a delay of 12 hours after the bite before swelling and discolorations occurs. The coral snake has a chewing action, and the victim will have stroke-like symptoms after the bite. People’s eyelids start to droop, and venom affects the central nervous system. The coral snake is related to the cobras. I call it the cobra without a hood,” Cruz said.

“There were over 10,000 snake bites in Florida since 1998, and a dozen people were on respirators as a result of snake bites, but many people were saved because of the quick response of our team,” he said.

“These are the only venomous snake that has round pupils, and it has a small head,” said Cruz, noting the differences in coral snakes that set it apart from other Florida snakes larger head size, such as the Florida rattlesnake, and the Florida cottonmouth.

The coral snake can also be identified by its distinct rings around its body, and many people remember the snake with a simple rhyme, “red on yellow, kill a fellow,” describing the yellow stripe of the snake, which presents itself next to the black coloration of the snake, along with the red stripes on the snake’s body.

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To learn more about Florida’s venomous snakes, go to:

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Florida snake talks daily at noon and 3 p.m.

Hours of Operation: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.

1450 Merrihue Drive, Naples

(239) 262-0304

www.conservancy.org

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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