Coral Snakes Just Got A Little Lessss Scary
That pun was so bad, I apologize.
As a Floridia kid, I remembered the following mnemonic device for playing outside in my swampy backyard:
Red on yellow and you’re a dead fellow.
Red on black, you’re alright Jack.
This referred to the very poisonous coral snake and the harmless king snake, both of which occasionally sought shelter from the heat in a cool corner of our porch, to my mother’s infinite horror.
The coral snake is bad news; the bite will initially not particularly harmful, releases a powerful neurotoxin into the blood stream that can kill you if untreated, even though it may not be instant.
Fortunately, a hospital in DeLand Florida is one of three hospitals in Florida testing an anti-venom for treat coral snake bites. While bites are rare because the deadly little coral snake is rather polite and doesn’t bother humans until they are immediately threatened, treatment can be difficult to come by as there is no mass-market for such a small number of snake bites. In 2013 73 people in the US were bitten by coral snakes as compared to 1,800 bites by copperheads. While those numbers are nationwide, the majority of the coral snake bites occurred in Florida where the snakes are most commonly found.
Coral snake anti-venom hasn’t been manufactured since 2003, and the remaining doses have undergone continued testing by Pfizer, extending the original 2008 expiration date into 2014. As of now, precious little of the drug remains, and at the hefty price of $1500 a dose, hospitals are reluctant to stock it given that it may finally expire before it is needed.
An ethical question is also raised about administering the remainder of the existing drug- the snake is capable of administering a “dry bite,” or a bite that does not release any venom into the system. The typical procedure was to treat any potential victim of a coral snake bite with the anti-venom, but now this administration may need to be more selective. Patients may not be certain whether they were bitten by a coral snake or a copycat, and as the venom takes up to 18 hours before symptoms appear, some doctors have suggested waiting for those symptoms instead of potentially wasting a dose. The harm in this is that the patients may undergo irreversible harm from a delayed administration of the anti-venom, which has shown to reduce the likelihood of mortality from 10-20% to 1-2%.
While it might sound like the new anti-venom is the answer, it has stalled somewhat on its route toward FDA approval; 55 clinical trials are required to prove the effectiveness of the new drug, but patients are unwilling to sign up for it as the old anti-venom was generally available.
A Pfeizer spokesperson has stated that the company has resumed production of the original formula, though it is not confirmed when it may be available.
The bottom line is, this year is a worse year than usual for a coral snake bite. Before you decide to pick up and or pester a snake, just repeat to yourself, red on yellow and you’re a dead fellow, red on black, you’re alright Jack….
Source: Daytona Beach News Journal