DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s snake bite season in North Carolina, and while most snakes are harmless, venomous ones can do some damage if you don’t get to a hospital for IV-antivenom.
This summer, Duke is part of a clinical trial that could one day change the way snake bites are treated.
Tom Chandler is extra careful walking through his backyard in Durham. In May, he didn’t notice the copperhead until it was too late.
At first, he thought he had suffered a bee sting, but then he looked down.
“I looked at my foot, and I could see the bite marks and the blood running out of it, and I said, ‘It’s a snake!'” he recalled. “I turned around and looked, and the snake was very, very close to me still.”
At Duke Hospital, he received antivenom, which is standard, but he also received a regimen of pills, as part of a clinical trial.
Dr. Chuck Gerardo, the Interim Chair in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Duke, said antivenom is a valuable tool, but it must be given by IV in a medical setting, and it’s species-specific.
“You can’t treat the zebra cobra with what we use on copperheads,” he said. “They just won’t work, they’re too different.”
The experimental pill, that is being studied in the U.S. and India, is designed to treat bites from numerous types of snakes across the world.
Right now, it’s being studied in combination with antivenom.
If it’s found to improve healing, Dr. Gerardo thinks it might someday be studied on its own, or more likely, as a treatment given before someone can get to the hospital.
“You can imagine someone in a remote place, they are hiking or in a rural setting, if they have access to the pill, they take the pill,” Dr. Gerardo said. “It doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and then they go seek care.”
After receiving nine vials of antivenom and taking pills at the hospital and at home, Chandler is grateful, he’s back to full health.
“We’re fortunate, especially living right here where we have tremendous medical care,” he said.
Still, he knows not everyone has such easy access to hospitals, and he hopes participating in this trial might one day make a difference for someone else.
“Why not help?” he asked, “I’m glad to help.”