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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 29 March, 2020

Scramble for antivenom as man in Dublin bitten by venomous snake

Puff adder venom destroys body tissue and the vipers are responsible for the most snakebite fatalities in Africa.

Puff adders are a venomous viper species.
Puff adders are a venomous viper species.
Image: Shutterstock/EcoPrint

Updated Feb 29th 2020, 10:18 AM

A 22-YEAR-OLD man has been rushed to Connolly Hospital in Dublin after being bitten by a highly venomous puff adder snake.

The National Reptile Zoo was asked to supply antivenom to combat the tissue-destroying poison, however there currently isn’t a supply for the specific species of viper in Ireland and there’s a shortage worldwide.

The zoo has sourced ten vials of the medication from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine but, depending on the severity of the bite, it could require up to 30 vials to combat the venom.

If required the rest of the antivenom will likely have come from Düsseldorf or Paris.

The man will have to be airlifted to Liverpool to receive the treatment or else the antivenom will have to be airlifted to Dublin.

James Hennessy, the Director of the National Reptile Zoo, said it is a “very, very serious” situation for the man.

“The thing about snake bites is, it could be what’s known as a ‘dry bite’, where you get away with losing only the tip of your finger, or it could have given him a full-on envenomation. And if the guy’s immune system isn’t 100% you know it can be enough to kill you,” he explained to

Puff adders are an African species of snake with a haemotoxic bite, meaning they destroy body tissue. They are responsible for causing the most snakebite fatalities in Africa.

The zoo director added:

It tends to disintegrate and dissolve anything it comes into contact with. He’s almost guaranteed to lose at least a digit, depending on where he’s bitten, if not possibly a lung and it may cause internal organ damage and failure.

The Kilkenny based zoo is the 24-hour contact for antivenom in Ireland. It is not government-funded and provides it privately to individuals who have been bitten, however it only has antivenom for species it keeps.

The medicine is kept in centres around the world but there’s a worldwide shortage at the moment.

Hennessy believes it’s the first recorded potentially fatal bite in the history of the state, despite people keeping a wide range of venomous animals for decades.

The Herpetological Society of Ireland later released a statement saying that the incident was likely a “tragic accident” and the man had been keeping the snake as a pet.

“Snakes are amazing animals and many can make wonderful, rewarding pets. They are not out to get you,” it said.

The society said that venomous snakes have no place outside of their natural habitat or a professional setting and they are “especially unsuitable” for being kept in a regular household.

“We send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to the young man involved,” it concluded.

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Ceimin Burke

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