How to Survive a Snakebite

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As many as 125,000 people die from snakebites every year; most of the victims die before getting to a hospital. A new nasal spray may change that, researchers from the California Academy of Sciences and the University of California, San Francisco say in the journal Clinical Case Reports.

“We are trying to change the way people think about this ancient scourge and persistent modern tragedy by developing an inexpensive, heat-stable, easy-to-use treatment that will at least buy people enough time to get to the hospital for further treatment,” Dr. Matt Lewin, Director of the Center for Exploration and Travel Health at the California Academy of Sciences, said in a press release.

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Antivenoms and other drugs used to treat snakebites aren’t easy to use on demand in the wilderness, Lewin knew. The nasal spray he developed uses the same drugs — anticholinesterase agents such as neostigmine — used for decades in snakebite treatment, recommended by the World Health Organization. Traditionally, it is administered in intravenous form.

In April, his team successfully tested it in nasal spray form on a volunteer, and in June, a doctor in India used the spray to reverse facial paralysis in a patient suffering from a krait bite. The patient recovered from the facial paralysis in 30 minutes, and resumed daily activities within two weeks.

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Lewin’s team is continuing to refine the nasal spray by testing combinations of drugs on mice. If you’re bitten by the snake in the meantime, don’t suck the venom — just get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

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