Antivenin (also antivenom or antivenene)
Antivenin is used to treat a venomous snake bite. It comes from milking the venom from a snake and then injecting a small amount (generally 1/10 to 1/100 the lethal amount) of it into a horse or sheep. The animal's immune system will begin to produce antibodies to fight off the venom. The injection of venom continues for several weeks which prompts the animals immune system to find ways to fight off the venom. At the end of three months the animal's blood is drawn and the white blood cells are separated from the red blood cells. The white blood cells are called the serum and they contain the antibodies of the animal's blood which fought off the foreign invasion (venom).
The serum produced by separating the blood cells is then packaged and sent to hospitals in need of it. Generally due to the high cost of the product, and special care needed when storing it hospitals will only order a limited supply of it. They also typically only order antivenin used to fight off the effects of bites local to their region. That's why people who keep venomous species of snakes from other parts of the world are wise to keep their own supply of antivenin on hand.
Once the hospital has the antivenin they must properly store it to ensure it does not go bad. Every method of harvesting and processing the antivenin results in specific storage requirements. For example (Crotalidae Polyvalent [Equine]) the antivenin for north American pit viper (rattle snake) bites can be stored up to three years if kept away from light and at the proper temperature. Once it is reconstituted by adding liquid to the dry serum it must be used within a couple of hours or will lose its potency.
Due to the greater potential for horse derived serum to cause severe allergic reactions sheep is favored animal to use in the production of antivenin. The trade off is that it is:
- More expensive to produce
- Requires a medically qualified person to inject it
- Requires a prescription to obtain
Finally there are human engineered antivenin products such as Venom-X which uses chemicals to fight off the results of venom bites. Venom-X is a powder that when mixed with water is rubbed on and in the Rattlesnake bite. According to field reports people begin to benefit from it right away in that the swelling is reduced, and discomfort is alleviated. Venom-X according to the manufacturer isn't intended to fight the venom of the Rattlesnake, but rather is meant to provide comfort for the patient. Rattlesnake's rarely cause death but the pain and suffering can be intense. Venom-X helps to relieve the suffering.