Sunday, 1 March 2020

Bitis arietans: Irish authorities struggle to find antivenom after Dublin Man bitten by Puff Adder.

Irish medical authorities are struggling to find antivenom to treat a 22-year-old Dublin man bitten by a Puff Adder, Bitis arietans, this week. The man was rushed to the Connolly Hospital, who tried to source antivenom from the Irish National Reptile Zoo, a non-government-funded zoo in Kilkenny which keeps the only supplies of Snake antivenom in Ireland. Unfortunatelly the zoo does not keep stocks of this particular type of antivenom, though it was able to source a supply from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England. However, it is unclear if even this body has enough antivenom to treat the bite, as it only keeps has ten vials of the medicine in stock; enough to treat a minor bite, but not a fully envenomed one (Snakes can control how much venom they release), which would typically require about 30 vials of antivenom, to attempts are being made to source further antivenom from elsewhere in Europe. Doctors are also considering the possibility of airlifting the patient to England where he will be able to recieve more specialised treatment for the bite, as such incidents are almost unknown in Ireland.

A Puff Adder, Bitis arietans, at Vivarium Darmstadt in Hessen, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

Snakes are becoming increasingly popular pets in many countries, which means that medical services are increasingly having to deal with Snake-related injuries, typically bites. However Puff Adders are considered an unusual choice of pet even among enthusiasts, which means that few places keep Puff Adder antivenom in stock.  Like most Snakes, a Puff Adder will generally try to back away from a percieved threat before biting, but if they do decide to strike they are exceptionally fast, and capable of biting through protective leather gloves sometimes worn by Snake-handlers. To make matters worse they produce a powerful haemotoxic (tissue-destroying) venom, which means that even a small bite typically results in some tissue loss (this might mean a finger or two, or part of the foot), while more severe bites often result in severe organ damage. 

Puff Adders are found in dry grasslands across Africa and southern Arabia, and are thought to kill more people each year than any other African snake, due to a combination of their dangerous behaviour, powerful venom, widespread distribution, and fondness for agricultural land.

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