Source: News24 (Extract)
Posted: February 14, 2023

The shortage of antivenom in South Africa was made strikingly clear for Steve Meighan, owner of Deep South Reptile Rescue, after a Cape Cobra bite last week.

In this particular case, the bite victim was a dog that had come into contact with a Cape Cobra in Noordhoek.

In a social media post, Meighan said when he arrived at the scene last week, the snake “was not in a good way” and the dog suffered a snakebite on the lip.

“I had a call from a good friend that said there was a cobra in a residence in Noordhoek. I rushed through as I always do and upon arriving I noticed a dog running around and I immediately thought ‘that dog must be put away if there’s a cobra.”

He learned upon arrival that the dog was bitten on the lip while the snake’s spine was destroyed.

“The dog’s tooth destroyed the spine right under its neck.”

Advising the pet owner to immediately take the dog to the nearest vet they learned that there was no antivenom stock in supply.

Time was of the essence so Meighan started calling around to find the life-saving antivenom.

“I turned my attention to finding antivenom. I called Fourways vet to see if they had but no luck. I called Panorama vet because I had previously organised for two other dogs that were bitten. They also didn’t have. I reached out to my network and one of them found some at Bellville Animal Hospital.”

Turning his attention to the cobra that was injured by the dog he realised that there was nothing he could do for the snake.

“I discovered that its spine was broken high up just off the neck from a tooth mark. I, unfortunately, had no choice but to euthanize the snake. Something I absolutely hate to have to do.

“I killed the cobra as painlessly and quickly as I could to end its suffering.”

Speaking to People’s Post, Meighan said there had been a number of snake bites in recent weeks.

“Luckily, Bellville vet received antivenom but most small vets do not have antivenom. It was a coordinated effort and we had to prepare the dog at Noordhoek Vet and then rush it through to Bellville.”

He adds that the antivenom shortage is a “nightmare.”

“I am someone who takes 600 to 1 000 calls a year to rescue snakes. It’s a serious risk for me if I get bitten.”

According to the African Snakebite Institute’s CEO Johan Marais, the shortage of antivenom, is currently a major crisis in South Africa.

“It is a crisis because the producers of antivenom are having a production crisis which is massive.”

He added while hospitals are also affected by the shortage that vets are more affected.

“Vets use a lot of antivenoms and there has been a major shortage in the last six to eight months because SA’s vaccine producers are not creating enough antivenom.

“Dogs are dying everywhere and it’s mostly dogs that are being bitten and treated. It’s a major crisis not only in SA but Africa.”

While antivenom is a crisis Meighan added that education was also needed.

“The antivenom crisis is an issue but education is also sorely needed. We are trying to develop a seminar to present to doctors, but are still trying to get funding together so train doctors about snake bite management and treatment.

“Then medical professionals would know who to speak and trust, take advice from and not take advice from, because it’s often difficult as we are not a recognised industry.

“It’s one thing not having the antivenom but another when having the antivenom and then wasting it and not knowing how to use it properly.

“Obviously, doctors do it very briefly at university and they may not see it in their whole career again.

“We want to change that and bring them that education and bring them those seminars so they may be up to speed on current treatments to manage snakebites.”