Woman killed by pet pit viper

CNN.com – Woman killed by viper among her exotic pets – Sep 13, 2004

Police believe an urutu pit viper bit the woman Monday, and neighbors said she drove herself to a hospital. She was transferred to University Hospital, where she remained in critical condition until her death Saturday evening.

“We have no idea how she made it to the hospital in the first place,” said North College Hill police Sgt. Robert Kidd.

Well, it’s because these toxins kill by causing a coagulopathy, and the victim then bleeds to death (usually internally, with intracranial hemorrhages and that sort of thing), but in a human-sized victim it takes a bit of time for all that to start. Unfortunately, once it starts it’s very very hard to turn off even with a good antivenom, which brings us to the next point.

Driving to the hospital made sense (it’s what I would have done), but the antivenin is where this falls apart. A while spent googling says this particular snake is very common in South America (pic 1/2 way down), and there’s an antivenin that works. Unfortunately, this bite happened in North America (Cincinnati) where this particular …polyspecific Bothrops antivenom… is not widely available. The Cincinnati and Columbus Zoos might have had it, and I’m sure they were called. There’s the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Antivenin bank as a resource, too.

I couldn’t find a US source for this antivenin by googling (I’m sure it hasn’t been FDA approved, since there’s no market for it here), though I’d bet some herpetologists have it on either a compassionate or investigational basis. Finding it, if it exists, might be a trick.

Often, I see this sort of medical oddity and say “what would I do?”, and the answer I came up with is, I’d pour all the CroFab in I could find while looking for a specific antivenin, and get the patient to the ICU, while replacing all those clotting factors that are getting chewed up. I’m sure they did just that, and it’s too bad she died.

Pit bulls and pit vipers don’t make good pets.