As most private hospitals in city don’t stock anti-venom serum, victims have no option but to rush to government institutes

He is no wildlife photographer, but last week, A. John had to venture into the dense undergrowth opposite Meenambakkam railway station. Even as the cameraman arranged lights and pondered over the best setting for his shot, a snake did him in.

What ensued was nothing short of filmy. He had to be taken to almost six hospitals before he was finally administered the anti-snake venom serum (ASVS).

“It was an area with lots of thorny bushes and I was trying to arrange the lights, when I sensed a prick on my ankle. I looked down to see a brown snake coiled like a murukku,” said Mr. John who is working on the Tamil comedy Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya.

He experienced a sudden bout of heaviness in his body. “The crew tied a handkerchief around my leg and rushed me to a nearby hospital but they did not have the medicine. I was taken to nearly five hospitals around Guindy and Saidapet, but none of them offered treatment for snake bite,” the Kundrathur native said, adding that staff at these hospitals seemed scared when told about the snake bite.

“Finally, someone at Balaji Hospital asked me to go to Government Royapettah Hospital,” he said. Upon rushing there, almost 90 minutes after the bite, Mr. John was immediately administered ASVS.

“It is common knowledge that in the case of snake bites, the best bet is to go to a government hospital,” said a doctor from the emergency ward at the hospital. Besides the GHs, government veterinary hospitals, too, stock ASVS, but they get few cases of snake bites, an expert said.

Most private hospitals in the city do not stock ASVS for a variety of reasons. “It does not make sense for us to store vials of ASVS when we get hardly such cases. They expire in a few months and large doses need to be administered to a single patient,” said a doctor from a private hospital in Velachery.

“It all depends on the number of snake bite patients you receive. We get a few cases, so we have to be prepared,” said a doctor at a private hospital in Madhavaram, one of the few hospitals in the city that stocks ASVS. A vial of ASVS costs anything between Rs. 390 and Rs. 540 and most hospitals do not have the facility to store large quantities of the medicine.

Another one in Adyar, however says, they used to stock anti-venom for a few years, but now they direct patients to government hospitals.

but the amount of ASVS required for treatment is usually large, which is not feasible considering the storage options at most hospitals,” he added.

“We also need trained people to handle such cases. Some snake bites need repeated administration of the serum,” said Dr Prathapan, director of clinics, TANUVAS.

An annual training programme is conducted by the toxicology department of Madras Medical College. The issue here is the limited supply of anti-venom, said Gerald Martin, herpetologist, also associated with the Madras Crocodile Bank. The number of instances of snake bites in Tamil Nadu is fewer than in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. The most number of cases are reported from Madurai and nearby areas.

"All snakes are not venomous and even a venomous bite is not always fatal. Most venomous snakes deliver just a dry bite to humans. Ten bottles of ASVS might be sufficient to treat a snake bite, but often, it is administered till all symptoms degenerate. This is because of a fear psychosis associated with snakes that leads to excessive use of ASVS," Mr. Martin said.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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