🐍Which hospitals in South Africa stock antivenom?

One of the questions we get asked most often is: “Is antivenom available and which hospital has stock?”

Much has been published about the antivenom shortage in South Africa for the past two or three years. The producers – the South African Vaccine Producers (SAVP) ran into some production problems and antivenom was extremely difficult to obtain. Veterinarians battled to purchase stock and many dogs died as they could not be treated for snakebite.

The situation seems to have improved, but we do not actually know whether antivenom can be purchased easily and we often hear of veterinarians that cannot obtain stock. An alternative antivenom called Panaf Premium is being imported under Section 21 and the preliminary results are good. It costs roughly the same as the local antivenom but when treating a person double the amount of antivenom will be required, making it very expensive.

While one can go into a lot of detail when it comes to first aid for snakebite, and this is well documented in Complete Snakes of Southern Africa and Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa as well as the free ASI App ASI Snakes, it is of utmost importance to get a snakebite victim to the nearest hospital that has emergency facilities and can cope with medical emergencies.

The only reason why a person will die from snakebite in the short term is because they stop breathing and we see this in Black Mamba and Cape Cobra bites. Their fast-acting neurotoxic venom affects breathing, and the patient can be intubated and ventilated in a hospital. It is the same with pets, especially dogs. Get your pet to a veterinarian urgently as there is very little that you can do to help your pet.

People often ask us whether we have a list of hospitals that carry antivenom. There is no such list, as any hospital that may have antivenom now could use it later and never replace it. It is a bit like asking a hospital what other drugs they have in stock for emergencies.

Also bear in mind that nine out of ten snakebite victims that are hospitalized do not receive antivenom as it is not required. In serious cases doctors will monitor symptoms and, if justified, administer antivenom.

Calling a hospital to check whether they stock antivenom is a futile exercise. If the hospital does not have antivenom they will arrange to obtain sufficient stock or transfer the patient to a hospital that is better equipped to provide the required treatment.

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