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The New Guinea small-eyed or ikaheka snake, Micropechis ikaheka, which occurs throughout New Guinea and some adjacent islands, is feared by the indigenes. The first proven human fatality was in the 1950s and this species has since been implicated in many other cases of severe and fatal envenoming. Reliable attribution of envenoming to this species in victims unable to capture or kill the snake recently became possible by the use of enzyme immunoassay. Eleven cases of proven envenoming by M. ikaheka, with two fatalities, were identified in Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. Five patients showed no clinical signs of envenoming. The other six patients showed symptoms typical of envenoming by other Australasian elapids: mild local swelling, local lymphadenopathy, neurotoxicity, generalized myalgia, spontaneous systemic bleeding, incoagulable blood and passage of dark urine (haemoglobinuria or myoglobinuria). Two patients developed hypotension and two died of respiratory paralysis 19 and 38 h after being bitten. In vitro studies indicate that the venom is rich in phospholipase A2, is indirectly haemolytic, anticoagulant and inhibits platelets, but is not procoagulant or fibrinolytic. It shows predominantly post-synaptic neurotoxic and myotoxic activity. Anecdotally, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories' (CSL) death adder antivenom has proved ineffective whereas CSL polyvalent antivenom may be beneficial. Anticholinesterase drugs might prove effective in improving neuromuscular transmission and should be tested in patients with neurotoxic envenoming.

Type

Journal article

Journal

QJM

Publication Date

07/1996

Volume

89

Pages

523 - 530

Keywords

Adult, Animals, Elapidae, Humans, Immunoenzyme Techniques, Male, Papua New Guinea, Snake Bites, Syndrome