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In West Africa, response to specific, geographically appropriate, antivenom is often dramatic following carpet viper (Echis ocellatus) envenoming with rapid restoration of blood coagulability and resolution of spontaneous haemorrhage. Envenoming from Australasian snakes causing similar coagulopathies may respond less dramatically and the effectiveness of antivenom is being questioned. Here we have reviewed and re-analysed all published preclinical and clinical studies on envenoming and antivenom therapy conducted in West Africa to determine the effectiveness of antivenom. 22 studies provided relevant information: 12 observational studies, 4 RCTs and 6 preclinical studies. Four comparative studies confirmed statistically significant protection against mortality ranging from 57 to 87% using specific antivenoms compared to non-specific or no antivenoms. Meta-analysis estimated combined Odds Ratio (95% CI) of 0.25 (0.14-0.45) of dying among those treated with specific antivenom or 75% (95% CI: 55-86%) protection against death. Mortality more than doubled during times when stocks of reliable antivenoms ran out, with Relative Risk (95% CI)] of 2.33 (1.26-4.06). Serum kinetics of venom antigen/antivenom levels also confirmed that decline of venom antigen levels coincided with resolution of coagulopathy while decline of antivenom levels was associated with venom antigen reappearance and recurrence of coagulopathy. Preclinical and antivenomics analysis confirmed efficacy of regionally appropriate antivenoms against E. ocellatus and related species' venoms in Sub-Saharan Africa but not against Asian Echis carinatus venom. Antivenoms raised against E. carinatus were ineffective in human studies. In West Africa, specific antivenom is effective in managing carpet viper envenoming. A centralized hub-and-spoke strategy is suggested for broadening antivenom access to endemic rural areas together with instituting quality assurance, standardization and manpower training. Benefits, risks, cost-effectiveness and feasibility of the approach should be formally assessed.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





82 - 89


Africa, Western, Animals, Antivenins, Blood Coagulation, Blood Coagulation Disorders, Drug Evaluation, Preclinical, Humans, Observational Studies as Topic, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Snake Bites, Viper Venoms, Viperidae