SOUTH A­FRI­CA’S SNAKE ANTI-VENOM LAB

SA Jagter Hunter - - NUUSBROKKIES -

South A­fri­ca is ho­me to nu­me­rous veno­mous sna­kes, yet The South A­fri­can Vac­ci­ne Pro­du­cers (SAVP), part of the Na­ti­o­nal He­alth La­bo­ra­to­ry Ser­vi­ce, is the on­ly ma­nu­fac­tu­rer of snake anti-venom in the en­ti­re coun­try.

San­dring­ham, Jo­han­nes­burg is ho­me to the SAVP w­he­re horses are sa­ving pe­op­le’s li­ves. Snake anti-venoms are pro­du­ced in horses, be­cau­se they can pro­du­ce anti-bo­dies that neu­tra­li­se the venom. T­he­se horses are im­mu­ni­sed with the dif­fe­rent venoms, then the plas­ma from the horses is pro­ces­sed and pu­ri­fied, re­sulting in the anti-venom. “SAVP ma­kes a­bout 15 000 am­pou­les a y­e­ar,” says Me­gan Saf­fer, ma­na­ging di­rec­tor of the SAVP’s anti-venom u­nit.

The World He­alth Or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on es­ti­ma­tes that mo­re than fi­ve mil­li­on pe­op­le are bit­ten by sna­kes each y­e­ar, and be­t­ween 81 000 and 138 000 pe­op­le die each y­e­ar due to snake bi­tes,

with three ti­mes as ma­ny am­pu­ta­ti­ons. Ho­we­ver, in Sub-Sa­ha­ran A­fri­ca, fe­wer than 2% of snake bi­tes are tre­a­ted with anti-venom. De­pen­ding on the ty­pe of snake and a­mount of venom it in­jects, a snake bi­te could cau­se tis­sue da­ma­ge, pa­ra­ly­sis or e­ven de­ath.

T­his coun­try is ho­me to ma­ny veno­mous sna­kes, and the SAVP has de­ve­lo­ped a num­ber of pro­ducts that ef­fecti­ve­ly neu­tra­li­se so­me venoms. T­he­se in­clu­de the bi­tes of rink­hals, the black mam­ba, and the Mo­zam­bi­que spit­ting co­bra. It is al­so the on­ly mo­no­va­lent anti-venom that is ef­fecti­ve a­gainst the bi­te of

a boom­slang.

The Na­ti­o­nal He­alth La­bo­ra­to­ry Ser­vi­ce, for­mer­ly the SA In­s­ti­tu­te of Me­di­cal Re­se­arch, first star­ted pro­du­cing an­ti­venoms in 1928, spe­ci­fi­cal­ly for the Ca­pe co­bra and puff ad­der.

Ho­we­ver, snake anti-venom is not the SAVP’s on­ly an­ti­do­te: It al­so pro­du­ces spi­der anti-venom (spe­ci­fi­cal­ly a­gainst the poi­son of a black wi­dow spi­der), which it has been doing sin­ce 1949. In the 1940s it al­so be­gan pro­du­cing an an­ti­venom for the scor­pi­on, Pa­ra­but­hus trans­vaal­i­cus. (Sa­rah Wild – Bu­si­ness In­si­der SA)

DE­SEM­BER 2018

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