Gaboon viper antivenom in Columbia, Myrtle Beach, say officials

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - Antivenom for a Gaboon viperbite is less than two hours away from Charleston. That's the word fromofficials in Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

According to officials at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia andat Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach, the two locations are the only placesin the state of South Carolina with antivenom for a Gaboon viper bite.

Thad Bowman, a paramedic in Myrtle Beach and animal careexpert at Alligator Adventure, one of the largest reptile facilities in theworld, said he trained with the Miami-Dade Venom Response Team and has theability to treat someone who has been envenomed by a Gaboon viper. TheMiami-Dade team is world-renowned for its expertise in handling bites fromvenomous insects and animals.

It also houses the largest and only antivenom bank for publicuse in the United States.

However, according to officials at the Miami-Dade VenomResponse Team, the treatment for a Gaboon viper bite is not FDA approvedbecause it's primarily used in Africa.

Scott Mullin said that means usually only zoos and special facilitiesin North America will have the permits necessary for the antivenom. He saidthere are several different requirements that must be met and a lot ofpaperwork that has to be completed before the permit is issued.

Mullin said the drug won't be in any American hospitalbecause those all require FDA approval.

Instead, if someone was bitten by a Gaboon viper in theLowcountry, the local hospital would call Palmetto Poison Control to coordinategetting a dose of antivenom from Columbia or Myrtle Beach.

It would likely take a couple of hours to have the serumflown in, Mullin said.

Officials with the Riverbanks Zoo also dispelled some mythsthat had been spread through local media from area snake handlers.

Scott Pfaff, the curator of herpetology at the zoo, said theGaboon viper is actually a very docile creature with a hemotoxic venom meaningit attacks tissue and acts more slowly than venoms of other snakes.

Pfaff said the bite can be deadly, but he says putting a timeframe on how quickly that would happen is difficult because it would depend onseveral factors including height and weight of the victim, the size of thesnake, and the location of the bite.

He said reports that were put out by area snake handlersthat put death at 30 minutes were misleading. Instead, he thought death wouldhappen within a much wide time frame of several hours up to two days from thetime of the bite.

Pfaff also said that if there is a snake on the loose inMount Pleasant, it would be in hiding because it did not want to be found. Sincethe snake's home environment is subtropical, Pfaff said a cold snap could killthe snake if it did not find a warm place to be.

Meanwhile, multiple searches for the snake have not yieldedany new clues as its possible location or confirmed its existence in the woodedarea around a Mount Pleasant apartment complex.{}