New Snakebite Program at UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – A new snakebite program at UAB aims to provide better long-term treatment of venomous bites, as well as to better understand the effects of a snakebite.

According to the UAB, only about five people die each year from snakebites in America. But what about the long-term effects that follow?

“So many people, in the southeastern United States in particular, have lingering injuries, significant swelling, and morbidity issues after snake envenomation, and there was no good place to send them. for a follow-up,” said William Rushton, MD, associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Emergency Medicine in the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.

Rushton is a medical toxicologist and medical director of the Alabama Poison Information Center, the state poison control center, based in Children’s of Alabama. Almost every snakebite in Alabama triggers a call to APIC. In the height of snakebite season, Rushton and fellow medical toxicologist Sukhshant Atti, MD, see an average of one or two snakebites each day with providers across the state.

Nothing like it elsewhere

Last year, Rushton and wound care expert Dag Shapshak, MD, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, launched the first of its kind Complete UAB Snakebite Programincluding one of the nation’s first snakebite follow-up clinics, which treats patients in hospital, provides follow-up, and researches new approaches and protocols in snakebite cases.

“This is the first-ever comprehensive snakebite program in the country,” said Shapshak, who also leads the UAB Comprehensive Wound Care Clinic, where he specializes in the treatment of persistent sores and swelling. Shapshak’s typical patient at the Comprehensive Wound Care Clinic is around 80 years old and has complications from diabetes or cancer.

“Our snakebite patients are much younger, around 5 to 30 years old; but the same techniques apply,” Shapshak said. “And they can mean the difference between lifelong complications and a full recovery.”

The Snakebite Clinic provided follow-up treatment after snake envenomation to 17 patients in 2021. This includes a teenage cheerleader with ongoing complications and a truck driver with severe envenomation and necrosis that threatened to both his work and his ability to play the guitar. Follow-up visits to the Snakebite Clinic are now offered to any patient whose treatment triggers a call to APIC, regardless of insurance status.

Snakebite season in Alabama and the Southeast runs from roughly mid-March to mid-November, and most bites occur in the evening, according to UAB doctors.

Snakes in Alabama

About 10% of envenomings in Alabama come from rattlesnakes. The rest comes from other vipers, including copperheads, cottonmouths, and watermoccasins. Doctors are quick to distinguish envenomation from the more general term snakebite, because up to 50% of bites are dry, with no venom injected.

Observation of a copper-headed snake in Hoover(WBRC/Sarah Pour)

The most common complications of envenomation are local wound damage, swelling of the extremities, and extremely painful blood blisters.

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