Study sheds light on how snake venom can cause long-term health problems
While snakebites are thought to kill around 100,000 people annually, many of those who survive suffer long-term complications which can lead to amputations. Estimates suggest that 15,000 people a year undergo amputation as a result of snakebites in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO formally listed snakebite envenoming as a highest priority neglected tropical disease in 2017.
A team involving Venomtech, the Universities of Reading and Kent, and BMG LabTech has published research(1) in the journal Toxins in which it studied the effects of 47 different snake venoms on the oxygen-carrying molecule haemoglobin. Some venoms have the effect of reducing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by converting haemoglobin to methaemoglobin, high levels of which can cause cardiovascular and neurological problems and lead to interventions such as amputation. In the study, they found that the venom of the elapid snake Naja nigricollis (black necked spitting cobra) was significantly active in the conversion of haemoglobin to methaemoglobin, an effect rarely seen in other elapid snakes but common in vipers.
The researchers also investigated which constituents of the venom may have contributed to this effect, and will be looking at this aspect further in other experiments. This should shed more light on the mechanisms by which snakebites can cause long-term health problems.
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1 Impact of Naja nigricollis Venom on the Production of Methaemoglobin Toxins 2018, 10(12), 539; https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins10120539
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