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In Sri Lanka, Russell's viper, Vipera russelli pulchella, kills more people than any other species of snake. At Anuradhapura in the dry central zone of the island we studied 23 patients with systemic envenoming after proven bites. Seventy-three per cent had swelling at the bite site. Neurotoxicity was the commonest sign of systemic envenoming: 82 per cent had external ophthalmoplegia and 77 per cent had ptosis. Incoagulable blood was found in 59 per cent but only 36 per cent had spontaneous bleeding. Other signs included generalized muscle tenderness (32 per cent), black urine (27 per cent) and persistent oliguria (9 per cent). Laboratory studies showed evidence of a severe clotting disorder: fibrinogen was often depleted as were factors V and X. Fibrin degradation products, including cross-linked moieties, were grossly elevated, clear evidence for enhanced fibrinolysis. Intravascular haemolysis, unrelated to G6PD deficiency, was often present. Myoglobin was detected in the plasma of all 19 patients tested (range 100- greater than 8000 ng/ml) and in the urine in 14 of 18 patients (110- greater than 16,000 ng/ml). Venom antigen (16.5-702 ng/ml) was detected by specific ELISA in the serum of all patients. Its concentration fell with the administration of 50-200 ml of Haffkine polyspecific antivenom raised against Indian venoms. Complete permanent clearance of venom antigen from the circulation was seen in only one of 21 patients who were followed until discharge. Blood coagulability was restored between one and 25 h (mean 8.8) after the first dose of antivenom in the 12 surviving patients whose clotting defect could be followed; no dramatic reversal of neuromyotoxic signs was seen. Haffkine antivenom thus has limited efficacy against systemic poisoning by Russell's viper in Sri Lanka.


Journal article


Q J Med

Publication Date





691 - 715


Adolescent, Adult, Antigens, Antivenins, Blood Coagulation Disorders, Child, Child, Preschool, Female, Hemolysis, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Ophthalmoplegia, Paralysis, Rhabdomyolysis, Snake Bites, Snake Venoms, Sri Lanka, Time Factors