What is Antivenom?
Snake venom is collected from snakes through a process called milking. Small quantities of snake venom are injected into a horse, which is able to produce enough antibodies to neutralise the effect of the venom. Over a period of time the dose of snake venom is increased, with the outcome being a horse with a large quantity of antibodies in its system.
Blood is taken from the horse which is spun in a centrifuge enabling collection of the horse blood serum. The horse blood serum is stored in a fridge and used as antivenom for snakebite. The most effective treatment for a snakebite is specific antivenom application for a specific species of snake.
Premedication of antihistamines is often required to reduce the possibility of complications associated with a patient's reaction to antivenom.
When is Antivenom Required?
The majority of snake bites in Australia do not require antivenom. Venom Detection Kits can be used by hospitals to determine the type of snake venom. Specific antivenom (monovalent) is only administered when the snake responsible for the bite has been identified and the clinical state of the patient indicates that it is necessary.
A less effective general antivenom (polyvalent) can be administered when the species of snake is unknown.
Red Bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) antivenom is used for a number of closely related species including the Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) pictured above.