Snake antivenom shortage at country hospitals

Farmers call for more snake antivenom at regional hospitals


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The Eastern Brown snake is one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

The Eastern Brown snake is one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

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'Not enough ampoules to save lives'

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Farmers are pushing to have more anti-venom available for snake bites in strategic regional hospitals after a number of ‘close calls’ exposed flaws in the system.

At least two farmers have been left with no treatment  for brown snake bites after local hospitals didn’t carry ampoules of anti-venom or trained staff to perform pathological testing of patients.

One of the hospitals was Dubbo Base hospital, that according to one farmer didn’t have trained staff to administer the right dosage of antivenom.

Tenterfield farmer Bronwyn Petrie said it was disturbing that many country vets  carried antivenom ampoules in regional areas, but not regional hospitals. Ms Petrie said it was lucky Tenterfield was one of those hospitals that held ampoules of anti-venom and supplies definitely saved one man’s life.

“Going on the supply of antivenom, I’d just like to know if animals’ lives are valued more than a human’s?,” she asked. “The cost of the ampoules is cited (about $1500-$2000) but that would hardly seem  a major impost for hospitals if a life is at stake.

“We had a snakebite victim attend Tenterfield Hospital and  if he didn’t get the anti-venom they say he would have been as dead as a doornail.” The man received two ampoules and needed a third ampoule when the rescue helicopter arrived.

NSW Farmers want it as a condition that all stocks of antivenom (two for brown, two for black snake) are kept at strategic regional hospitals, with medical staff trained to detect and administer the antivenom if needed. The proper administration of antivenom is vital in a snakebite case as the wrong dosage or wrong type of antivenom could be lethal.

Ed Colless, from Walgett, said one worker on his farm was bitten and was taken straight to Coonamble hospital, but it had no antivenom. He then went to Dubbo Base Hospital but there wasn’t anyone qualified to test the victim for what antivenom was required.

Earlier this year the head of the Australian Venom Research Unit David Williams said there would  be a rise in snakebite fatalities if hospitals didn’t keep stocks of antivenom.

Dr Williams told the ABC that he was surprised “regional hospitals were being complacent regarding stocks”.

"Historically, it's a product that has been available in hospitals even in the most remote corners of the country," he said. "And, as a result of that, we have a very low fatality rate — one or two a year on average."

Mrs Petrie said brown snakes were aggressive. One had come at her in her garden without warning. Brown snakes are one of the world’s most venomous snakes.

Meanwhile the Royal Flying Doctor Service has changed the way it treats snakebites.

“In 2017 there was a new, comprehensive study released on snakebites in Australia.  Over 10 years of research and 1,500 snakebite patients were studied. As a result, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has changed the way it views and treats snakebites,” its website says.

The RFDS has launched an online quiz to make sure people are up to date with the changes.

You can take the quiz here:

RFDS Snakebite quiz

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