A new program from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) seeks to revolutionize the way patients are treated for venomous snakebites, both in and out of the hospital. Launched in 2021, the UAB Comprehensive Snakebite Program is one of the first such programs in the nation to pioneer new methods to treat patients-keep reading to learn more about the program
Each year 8,000 people report snakebites
Each year, around 7,000 to 8,000 people in America report having been bitten by a snake, but of these only half actually come from venomous snakes. What’s more, roughly only 5 people a year die from venous snake bites in the USA. At the end of the day, there isn’t that high of a risk of dying from a snakebite. What there is a risk of, is being permanently maimed.
Shortly after someone is bitten by a venous snake, they begin to experience a variety of symptoms such as:
- Swelling of extremities
- Painful blisters
- Shortness of breath
Doctors are often unprepared
As only around 4,000 people a year actually experience a venomous snake bite, doctors are often unprepared or inexperienced in treating snakebite victims. For much of the same reason, hospitals rarely have large quantities of the antivenom used to treat different snakebites. Both this lack of education and resources surrounding snakebites often result in harmful and unnecessary procedures being performed such as:
- The removal of tissue that appears ‘necrotic’ but is often simply inflamed
- Antivenom not being properly administered, or given the time to work
- Patients are being sent home with no instructions on how to continue caring for their snakebites post-treatment
Preventing unnecessary procedures
The UAB Comprehensive Snakebite Program aims to prevent unnecessary or harmful procedures by approaching snakebites through a multi-disciplined approach. The program has already been successful in creating a number of new procedures and protocols in snakebite treatment that are revolutionizing the field and as a result, the program is an innovator in the field of thromboelastography, or TEG.
TEG is basically a way for doctors to observe how blood clots. The UAB Comprehensive Snakebite Program has been able to use TEG to improve how they respond to and treat snakebites, and this has resulted in:
- Being able to give the exact amount of antivenom needed to treat a patient
- Patients needing shorter stays than in most other hospitals, usually being discharged within 24 hours
- Being able to offer follow-up appointments with patients after discharge
All of these are already leaps and bounds ahead of what hospitals have traditionally been able to provide for snakebite victims, and the program is still continuing to grow and innovate.
Many community and rural hospitals, both in Alabama and beyond, often struggle with low supplies of antivenom and being unable to treat patients critically ill from snakebites. The UAB Comprehensive Snakebite Program hopes to provide the guidance and resources needed to help physicians when they are faced with such scenarios.
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