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June 19, 2014

Nasal spray may be lifesaver for snake bite victims

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Although snake bites are rarely fatal in the U.S., they kill about 100,000 people worldwide every year. Now, a California doctor has created a nasal spray that may save the lives of victims in the critical period of time before they reach a hospital.

Venomous snakes attack more than two million people a year in rural parts of India, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Most of the victims come from poor agricultural areas remote from hospitals. Without timely medical treatment, patients often die.

Treating snakebite victims in India is extremely expensive, often more than rural families can afford. To temporarily counteract the neurotoxins in some snake’s venom, doctors often rely on a drug called neostigmine, which is readily available and inexpensive, but can induce heart problems if used improperly.

However, Dr. Matthew Lewin, an emergency room physician, says a nasal spray could eliminate the issues commonly associated with the injectable form of neostigmine.

“In the injectable form or I.V. form, it’s very toxic. It’s difficult to handle. So the idea is to develop a formulation that’s less toxic, less prone to complications. To get rid of the needle would be a great way to do this.”

While initial testing suggests the nasal spray will be effective in humans when used against snake venom, critics say the benefits are limited.

Dr. Robert Norris, director of emergency medicine at Stanford University, says neostigmine doesn’t have an effect on many types of snake bites.

“The percentage of snakebites that it would be applicable to is pretty small, and whether or not it would even be effective in those types of snakes is still questionable as well,” he said.

However, one thing Norris and Lewin do agree on is that because it is not a major problem in the U.S. and Europe, there is far too little attention or research going into snakebites and their treatment.


Warm up questions
  1. Do any species of snakes live where you do? Which ones? Are any of them poisonous?
  2. Estimate how many people you think die each year due to snake bites?
Discussion questions
  1. What are the biggest challenges faced by the victim of a potentially fatal snake bite?
  2. How does Dr. Lewin’s spray help snake bite victims? Is his solution an anecdote? Explain your answer.
  3. What are the criticisms of Dr. Lewin’s spray?
Writing prompt

In the United States most people don’t die from poisonous snake bites because they are able to get medical attention quickly compared to some countries that have a less access to emergency health care. Imagine you work at one of the most advanced snake venom research and development (R&D) laboratories in the world and your goal is to create an anecdote that would save thousands each year.

Here’s the problem though – the group of investors who fund your research are from the United States and other countries that typically have access to emergency medicine. This means that they have less of an incentive to fund projects like your snake venom anecdote research, that address critical problems in other countries than their own.

First, briefly outline your arguments to try to convince them to continue to fund your research and then use those arguments to create a persuasive text. Make sure to use evidence from the text and video to support your arguments as well as moral justifications for your request.

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