Saturday, May 03, 2008

Don't expect antivenin for exotic snakebites: B.C. health officials

A Surrey man who nearly lost his finger after a bite from his pet cobra is now home recovering, but B.C. health officials are warning the province has no supply of antivenin for exotic snakebites.

Jason Hansen, shown in hospital last week, said his finger turned black after being bitten and his whole arm swelled to nearly three times its size.
Jason Hansen, 36, was bitten by Eve, his pet albino cobra, on Dec. 6, and he is still suffering from the effects.

He has massive scarring on his arm and may still lose his finger, which is badly damaged. The bite was dry and no venom was released, but the neurotoxins in the snake's saliva caused serious tissue damage, he said.

"It just looks like a finger with no skin," he told CBC News on Friday.

Experts say the case should be a warning to people who collect exotic and dangerous pets that life-saving antivenin is difficult to get and not always effective.

Debra Kent, the supervisor of the B.C. Poison Control Centre, told CBC News that even if a hospital does have antivenin, doctors won't necessarily administer it to patients, because it is only effective in limited situations.

In Hansen's case, antivenin was eventually obtained from Alberta, but never administered, because his respiratory system wasn't failing, said Kent.

Jason Hansen's five-year-old pet cobra, Eve, bit him on his finger last week.
Many B.C. hospitals carry antivenin for bites from rattlesnakes, a species native to parts of B.C.'s Southern Interior, but they don't stock antivenin for non-native species such as cobras, said Kent.

"The two closest places to us that carry exotic snake antivenin are the Woodland Zoo in Seattle and Reptile World in Drumheller, Alta.," said Kent.

Michael Teller, the manager at the Woodland Zoo, told CBC News on Friday they have antivenin for all their poisonous snakes and they do get calls for incidents like Hansen's occasionally.

If the bite is verified, and if the situation is life-threatening, they will ship antivenin, but Teller said exotic snake antivenin is rare and expensive, meaning if they hand out their vials, they put themselves at risk.

"We don't have any in case anyone at our institution gets bitten, so then we have to be really cautious," Teller told CBC News on Friday.

Cobra bites are rare, Kent said, but the latest incident has been a wakeup call for local health officials.

"We don't really know how many private collections there are in B.C. [of poisonous exotic snakes]," she said.

Hansen said there are a lot more than people think, and for that reason exotic snake antivenin should be readily available.

"If it's Drumheller, Alta., that we have to get this stuff from, then maybe we should have some locally here as well."

Special Thanks to CBC

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