Antivenom in Dallas Zoo


Lauren Kim, 6th Grade, Contributor

There’s been snakebites worldwide, but the question is: “Is there a cure?” Yes, there is something called antivenom that the Dallas Zoo has been purchasing after a man in Texas got struck by a venomous snake’s mouth. The Dallas Zoo especially has a high number of venomous snakes in its cages, so they have a large supply of antivenom just in case as well.  Some people don’t necessarily realize that the snakes are more venomous and hurtful than they think, so they antagonize the snakes. This causes them to be bitten. Hospitals mainly store antivenom for common snakebites, but when people get an unfamiliar snakebite the Dallas zoo is rung up to send antivenom through transportation such as police or a special service.

What’s interesting is there are different antivenoms for different species of snakes.  Antivenom is expensive, up to thousands of dollars for a small one-time use vial. For example, since bites from Asian snakes are less powerful, the antivenom doesn’t have to be very strong, so it is only $200. But Australian snakes are more venomous so the result is just one vial costing $2,500. The Dallas zoo has around $200,000 worth of antivenom (thousands of vials) in their small antivenom fridge. It could be up to even 30 vials (in intense cases) of antivenom that a patient could need at a time. The latest incident that required antivenom was in January 2015 when a man actually got bitten by his own African bush viper- an exotic snake with no antivenom to treat it. Luckily, due to research and testing, some antivenoms meant for a different snake could be used to treat a bite from another snake.

The Dallas zoo has about 90 species of snakes, and 65 are venomous. The entire staff committee is taught how to handle venomous snakes, and where each                       handler is working with snakes, there is a red button to press called the “snakebite alarm” just in case if the handler gets bitten and needs emergency service. Though, these red buttons aren’t used very often, as there have only been 3 snakebites which weren’t venomous throughout the whole 127 year history of the Dallas zoo.

There is a long process to make the antivenom, which includes the venom itself. A normal snake can be milked every two weeks. First, the snake is held gently between the pointer finger and thumb, applying mellow pressure to it’s body. The pressure causes the snake to bite a glass funnel so that the venom slides down into a vial. The venom is inserted into a healthy animal (horse or sheep) and a few months are waited. The animal’s system will produce antibodies to protect against the venom over the course of the months. Finally, the some of the animal’s blood is drawn with the antibodies, and there is the antivenom.

Even though there is an antidote to venomous snake bites, people should still never, never tease a snake of any kind or do anything to make it want to bite you.