Snakebites are a seriously neglected public health problem in Lao PDR. Community-based cross-sectional surveys in two districts of Savannakhet province in Southern Laos revealed an incidence of up to 1105 snakebites per 100,000 persons per year. In contrast the number of snakebite patients treated in district and provincial hospitals are low. In order to improve health care for snakebite victims, antivenom was introduced to Savannakhet provincial hospital in July 2013 and medical staff has been trained in management of venomous snakebites at the same time. After the intervention the number of snakebite patients treated at the provincial hospital increased significantly from 4 patients in 2012 to 158 snakebite patients between July 2013 and November 2015. They were included into a prospective, consecutive case series. Median age was 32 years (range 1.5-70 years) and male-to-female ratio 2.2:1. Forty patients were bitten by Malayan pit vipers, 26 by green pit vipers, 24 by cobras, including 3 cases of venom ophthalmia, 5 by kraits, 8 by non-venomous species and in 55 cases the snake could not be identified. Forty-three out of 158 patients received horse derived F(ab')2 antivenom from Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (QSMI) in Bangkok. Twenty-three patients (53%) developed early adverse reactions (EARs) within one hour after antivenom administration, including 13 patients (30%) with severe anaphylaxis. This extremely high rate of severe EARs turns the use of antivenom into a risky intervention. In contrast a retrospective chart review from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok found only 3.5% early reactions including 1.2% severe anaphylactic reactions using the same antivenom from QSMI between 1997 and 2006. The reason for this enormous difference remains unclear. A better understanding of the aetiology and pathophysiology behind antivenom induced anaphylaxis is crucial in order to identify patients at risk and to improve safety of antivenom administration.
Keywords: Anaphylaxis; F(ab')(2) snake antivenom; Lao PDR; Venomous snakebites.
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