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What is Antivenom?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Antivenom is a substance used to treat people who have had venom injected into their bodies through the bites or stings of an animal. When this occurs, the injured party may have it administered to her, usually either through a vein, or less often, through a muscle. It works to neutralize the venom that is in the patient’s body, reducing its effects and preventing more damage. However, it cannot do anything to change the damage that has already been done.

Antivenom can literally be lifesaving. Before scientists learned how to create it, many venomous bites would prove fatal. Today, death is no longer a definite result. However, death may still occur, even when antivenom is available, if it is not administered to the patient in time.

Many people are most familiar with the use of snake antivenom to treat people who have been bitten by venomous snakes, such as death adders, taipan, pit vipers, and tiger snakes. However, there are antivenoms for other types of animals as well. For example, there are antivenoms for many types of spiders, such as the funnel web spider, the redback spider, the black widow spider, and the Chilean recluse. There are also antivenoms for some types of insects, such as the Lonomia oblique caterpillar, and scorpions. There are even options designed for treating stings and wounds inflicted by animals that live in the water, such as the box jellyfish and the stonefish.

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Animals are important in creating antivenoms. This process involves injecting venom from a particular venomous animal into the body of a non-venomous animal, such as a horse or a goat. Sheep, rabbits, and other animals may be used as well. The animal’s immune system then responds to the injection and creates antibodies. These antibodies are then taken from the animal’s blood and used in creating antivenom that can be injected into the patient’s body.

A man named Albert Calmette is credited with developing the very first snake antivenom. He was a French scientist who worked in a branch of the Pasteur Institute in the late 1800s. The idea for developing the first antivenom was based on how vaccines, which were initially developed in the 1800s by a French scientist named Louis Pasteur, work. A major difference between vaccines and antivenoms is that with vaccines, the antibodies are developed in the patient; antivenom antibodies are developed in an animal instead. While scientists are studying the effects of injecting venom directly into a human patient as opposed to an animal, there are many potential problems that could arise as a result, which makes such a process less than optimal at present.

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