Snake venoms in science and clinical medicine. 1. Russell's viper: biology, venom and treatment of bites.
Russell's viper, Vipera russelli (Shaw), is distributed erratically in 10 south Asian countries and is a leading cause of fatal snake bite in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. In Burma it has been the 5th most important cause of death. Its venom is of great interest to laboratory scientists and clinicians. The precoagulant activity of the venom was used by Macfarlane and others to elucidate the human clotting cascade. Up to 70% of the protein content is phospholipase A2, present in the form of at least 7 isoenzymes. Possible clinical effects of the enzyme include haemolysis, rhabdomyolysis, pre-synaptic neurotoxicity, vasodilatation and shock, release of endogenous autacoids and interaction with monoamine receptors. Russell's viper bite is an occupational hazard of rice farmers throughout its geographical range. Defibrination, spontaneous haemorrhage, shock and renal failure develop with frightening rapidity. In several countries, Russell's viper bite is the commonest cause of acute renal failure. There is a fascinating geographical variation in the clinical manifestations, doubtless reflecting differences in venom composition. Conjunctival oedema is unique to Burma, acute pituitary infarction to Burma and south India, and rhabdomyolysis and neurotoxicity to Sri Lanka and south India. Treatment with potent specific antivenom rapidly controls bleeding and clotting disorders, but may not reverse nephrotoxicity and shock. Causes of death include shock, pituitary and intracranial haemorrhage, massive gastrointestinal haemorrhage and acute tubular necrosis or bilateral renal cortical necrosis. The paddy farmer and the Russell's viper coexist in fragile symbiosis. The snake controls rodent pests but inevitably interacts with man, often with mutually disastrous results.