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Saw-scaled vipers are notorious killers, because people cannot be bothered to make proper antivenom

Posted September 6, 2017

Saw-scaled vipers are the most notorious killers from the snake world. These snakes kill more people globally each year than almost any other kind of snake. They live in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Now scientists from the University of Queensland may have the answer why antivenom sometimes proves to be ineffective.

Saw-scaled viper is one of the deadliest snakes in the world, because commonly used antivenom is usually ineffective. Image credit: Marathekedar93 via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Because the saw-scaled viper lives in such a big territory, antivenom is produced in several places. However, scientists say that antivenom from one region may not work in another, even though it is meant to treat victims of the same species of snake. For example, in Africa some Indian-made antivenom was used, which cause death rates to increase 20 times. Scientists tested several antivenoms from different regions and found that they are more or less effective only regionally. This, of course, is a big problem because now antivenom is used interchangeably throughout the area where the saw-scaled vipers live.

However, probably the most interesting part of this story is that regions from which antivenoms may be used to treat bite victims are actually very small. For example, Indian antivenoms failed against the Indian saw-scaled viper from a range different to the one used to produce antivenom. This means that the despite species being the same and living in relatively small territory are still different enough for venoms not to work properly. And, of course, Indian antivenoms failed completely against African saw-scaled vipers, even though they are used in Africa extensively.

You may think getting bitten by a snake is a rare occurrence, but snake bites account for more than 100,000 deaths annually. Part of the problem is that antivenom cannot be used interchangeably between regions, but a bigger issue is that companies don’t want to produce antivenom at all. It is expensive and people involved in snake bites typically cannot pay for that. Antivenom also has a short shelf-life, which means hospitals cannot stockpile this medicine. Saw-scaled vipers in Africa usually attack people working in farms, which may affect entire family.

Bryan Fry, one of the authors of the study, said: “Entire family groups may be plunged into poverty. Other medically important destabilising factors are targeted by foreign aid from wealthy countries since destabilised communities are more prone to violence and extremism. However snakebite is hugely neglected”.

This shows how pharmacy business may not be interested to solve a problem if the solution is not profitable enough. And it is actually understandable, because business is business. However, this means that an effective solution will have to be figured out by scientists and local governments.


Source: University of Queensland

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