Over one-hundred thousand people die every year from snake bites. Antivenoms can save your life, but only if you can get to them. Most people who die from snakebite never make it to a hospital.
And you have to get to a hospital – field treatments aren’t very reliable. Antivenoms are tricky. They’re expensive, you kind of have to be trained to use them correctly, and, worst of all, you have to keep them refridgerated. If you’re a farmer in rural India, a researcher in the middle of the Outback, or a hiker way out in the rockies, well, they might as well have never have been invented. They’re too far away.
But a new, experimental treatment from the California Academy of Sciences led by Dr. Matt Lewin may have solved some of these problems.
One of the major dangers of snakebite is paralysis. A rush of venom, then cramps, stiffness, and, if it spreads to your diaphragm, suffocation. We actually have some very good anti-paralysis drugs – called anticholinesterases – and these are often used in hospitals to help treat snakebites. And they’re much cheaper and hardier too. But, like antivenoms, you have to be very careful when administering them.
Dr. Lewin’s teams’ innovation was finding an easy way to administer anticholinesterases – instead of needing to get to a doctor or inject yourself, Dr. Lewin’s team put them into a nasal spray. It’s easier to administer, works quickly, and doesn’t involve stabbing yourself with a needle. The treatment is a long way from manufacture – the team just finished their proof-of-concept experiments. But results look promising.
It’s not foolproof – you’ll still need hospitalization and the treatment would only work against neurotoxins – get bit by a hemotoxic rattler and that may (read: will) still be a problematic situation. But against a cobra – a black mamba – a tiger snake – this new treatment could buy you the time you need.