Well, this bites

Coral snakes lack the ruthless efficiency of some other venomous snakes, but they have a couple of factors working in their favor against the likes of you or me. One is the sheer toxicity of the venom, which starts out slowly (so you don’t notice it so much) but finishes with a grand flourish: it paralyzes the lungs.

The other? Six months from now, there may not be anything that can be done about it:

[A]fter Oct. 31 of this year, there may be no commercially available antivenom (antivenin) left. That’s the expiration date on existing vials of … the only antivenom approved by the Food and Drug Administration for coral snake bites. Produced by Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer, the antivenom was approved for sale in 1967, in a time of less stringent regulation.

Wyeth kept up production of coral snake antivenom for almost 40 years. But given the rarity of coral snake bites, it was hardly a profit center, and the company shut down the factory that made the antivenom in 2003.

A Mexican manufacturer, Bioclon, has developed its own version of a coral-specific antivenom, but apparently they can’t afford the level of clinical testing demanded by the FDA.

The alternative? Weeks on a ventilator, until the effects of the venom wear off, or maybe a call to Samuel L. Jackson.

(Via Scribal Terror.)

6 comments

  1. John Salmon »

    15 May 2010 · 10:23 am

    One paralyzed lung is bad; two could ruin your whole day.

  2. fillyjonk »

    17 May 2010 · 7:40 am

    “Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Red and black, venom lack.” (Or so goes the old saying of how to tell a coral snake from one of the color-morphs of the (harmless) king snake based on what color is next to what.)

    That said, I hope some “angel” steps in and helps that company pay for the FDA testing. I have no idea how common coral snake bites are, but it seems somewhat sad that in one of the most advanced countries in the world, we might have to stick someone on a ventilator for weeks because we have no antivenin for a snakebite.

  3. CGHill »

    17 May 2010 · 7:55 am

    Wikipedia claims that coral snakes inflict less than one percent of the snake bites in the States.

    The Natural Toxins Research Center at Texas A&M-Kingsville has performed some testing on the Mexican product, and they found it equal or superior to the discontinued Wyeth product.

  4. fillyjonk »

    17 May 2010 · 8:48 am

    So I guess coral snake bites are kind of in the same boat as what are called “orphan diseases” – horrible if it happens to you or someone in your family, but you’re not going to wind up getting much help unless some famous person is also a sufferer. (Yes, that was a bit of cynicism right there.)

  5. CGHill »

    17 May 2010 · 9:45 am

    Which suggests a plan: if you’re bitten by one of these things, have a friend or family member capture the snake and carry it up to your Congressman’s local office.

  6. fillyjonk »

    17 May 2010 · 4:34 pm

    WILL snakes bite politicians, or do they refuse to out of professional courtesy? (Like the old joke about sharks and lawyers…)

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