Researchers are finding new ways to save snakebite victims. Experts discussed the latest findings during a recent meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Scientists in Australia have shown that a chemical called nitric oxide could increase the chances of surviving a poisonous snakebite. The scientists injected rats with deadly amounts of snake venom. Then they rubbed an ointment containing nitric oxide on the skin around the injection site.
The study found that the rats lived about one-third longer than if the ointment had not been used. But the treatment had to be started very quickly.
Dirk van Helden led the research at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales. He says the nitric oxide ointment also showed promise in humans. Volunteers were injected with an harmless liquid that contained molecules about the same size as snake venom molecules.
Many snake venoms contain large molecules that can only enter the blood through the body’s lymphatic system. The nitric oxide slows the pumping action of the lymphatic system, and that slows the flow of venom into the blood.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Medicine. Scientists say the findings could help save many lives. A study from two thousand eight found that poisonous snakes cause as many as ninety-four thousand deaths worldwide each year. But Ulrich Kuch of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt, Germany, says: “New numbers from very strictly designed and well-conducted studies in India and Bangladesh have come up with numbers that suggest that the real death toll of snakebites at the global level is much higher.”
Mr. Kuch says many deaths could be often prevented, but snakebite victims go to traditional healers or do not seek any help at all. “Either because there is no treatment available — no antivenom, which is the specific drug to treat snakebites — or because health care staff do not know how to treat snakebites, or because transportation to get to a health facility is not available or too expensive. “
There is no single antivenom that can be used to treat all snakebites. The antivenom must be specific to the kind of snake that bit the person. In some countries the treatment is expensive. In others the problem is a lack of availability or a lack of training in treating snakebites. New tests are being developed to help rural health workers know the right antivenom to give.
For VOA Special English, I’m Alex Villarreal.
Words in This Story
rub – v. to press or be pressed against something with a circular or up-and-down repeated movement
ointment – n. a thick substance, usually containing medicine, that is put on the skin where it is sore or where there is an injury, in order to cure it
injection – n. the act of putting a liquid, especially a drug, into a person’s body using a needle and a syringe
molecules – n. the simplest unit of a chemical substance, usually a group of two or more atoms
lymphatic – adj. a liquid that transports useful substances around the body and carries waste matter away from body tissue
biodiversity – n. the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area or in the world generally
healers – n. a person who has the power to cure ill people without using ordinary medicines
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