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What Is Antivenin?

Antivenin is available for scorpion stings.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Antivenin, which is also commonly called antivenom, is a group of medications that may help people or animals recover from venomous bites. Monovalent medication is specific to treating bites from one type of creature, and polyvalent types will treat exposure to more than one species of animal/insect/reptile. They work by providing antibodies that fight directly against the venom that is circulating in the body. The earlier antivenin is administered, the better, because it cannot reverse damage that venom may have already caused.

Human beings in most parts of the world live in company with a variety of venomous creatures, such as certain snakes, spiders, scorpions, and jellyfish. Some of these cause minimal damage if they come into contact with humans, but others may cause very serious illness, damage to the body, or death, without antivenin. This is why the production of the different types is so important. It is a foregone conclusion that people will occasionally have exposure to dangerous venom types, and without medicines to address this, many of them would become very ill or even die.

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Antivenin has a lengthy production process, which involves first introducing venom into horses or sheep and then capturing blood from these animals because it contains antibodies against the venom. As mentioned, sometimes antivenom types are produced that can counteract venom exposure from several different species. For example, polyvalent antivenin exists for treating venom exposure to most of the Australian snakes. Given the variety and toxicity of many Australian snakes, this is most fortunate.

On the other hand, at times, a monovalent, venom-specific antivenin is more appropriate. A person bitten by the South African boomslang snake can only be helped by antivenom made specifically to counteract that snake’s powerful venom. It’s worth mentioning that the production of antivenin and its cost can lead to shortages, especially in poorer countries or areas. This can especially create tragedy in areas frequented by venomous creatures where people may have less protection, such as protective clothing, footware, or strong shelters, against being bitten.

Human reaction to antivenin may vary by type and by the individual. Some people develop itchiness or hives, and others may have strong allergic reactions to one of these medications. When people are given antivenins, medical personnel, both to look for side effects and to ascertain that drug treatments are working, usually watch them carefully. Most people don’t have a choice about taking antivenom if they’ve been exposed to a seriously poisonous creature. Failing to use these drugs could cause exceptional illness, permanent damage to the body and its functions, or death.

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