Paralysis is averted after cobra bite

August 20, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

In an article yesterday about a cobra biting a Virginia man, the name of Dr. John Cary of Prince William Hospital in Manassas, Va., was misspelled.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

Injections of anti-venom kept a 34-year-old Virginia man, an exotic-snake enthusiast since the age of 5, from being paralyzed yesterday after he was bitten at home by one of his poisonous pets.

Drew Yaeger, drooling and having great difficulty breathing, was brought into the emergency room at Prince William Hospital in Manassas, Va., a little after 1 a.m. He had been bitten on the web of skin between the thumb and index finger of his left hand by an 8-foot South African forest cobra, whose venom can cause paralysis.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Prince William Hospital contacted the Baltimore Zoo, the federal Centers for Disease Control in Arizona and zoos in Florida, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, to find the right kind of anti-venom to treat the Manassas man.

The anti-venom needed to treat Mr. Yaeger was obtained from the Pittsburgh Zoo and the National Zoological Park in Washington.

"There is no chance of paralysis," Dr. John Carey of Prince William Hospital said last night after Mr. Yaeger had been injected with 36 vials of anti-venom. He said the patient "was moving his extremities" and was in serious but stable condition.

Yesterday was the third time in five years that Mr. Yaeger had been bitten by a poisonous snake. Yesterday's bite may have been the most life-threatening because of the paralysis that could have resulted.

Since there is no medical cure for bites from poisonous snake, an anti-venom for a specific species must be used, Dr. Carey said.

Michael Hicks, who works in the Baltimore Zoo's reptile department, said he was contacted at home by the Virginia hospital about 3:30 a.m. and went to the zoo to look through the anti-venom index, which catalogs the types of anti-venom in stock.

"We did not have the proper type of anti-venom in stock," Mr. Hicks said. "Zoos are required to keep in stock anti-venom for snakes in their collections. The Baltimore Zoo has king cobras, rattlesnakes and palm vipers in its collection. We don't have African cobras."

He said anti-venoms are made from horse serums. Tiny amounts of venom from a certain species of snake is injected into the bloodstream of a horse to make it immune to the venom. The serum is then refined from the horse's blood, Mr. Hicks said.

"Horses are used because they are so large and can be made immune to venom," he said. "The anti-venom is made by a variety of laboratories across the world and shipped to zoos and other institutions."

The National Zoological Park supplied Prince William with 10 vials of anti-venom -- about the size of a syringe -- and the Pittsburgh Zoo arranged for 20 vials to be flown to Virginia. Each vial of anti-venom costs between $25 and $50.

The other vials came from Mr. Yaeger and another Northern Virginia snake enthusiast.

After the injections, Dr. Carey said, Mr. Yaeger was able to write a message that he wanted water. "But he's still not strong enough to breathe on his own," the doctor said.

Mr. Yaeger had lost most of his right thumb and the tip of his left index finger to the other snakebites.

"Despite all these injuries, he still collects snakes," Dr. Carey said. "He has been collecting them since he was 5 years old. He started with nonpoisonous snakes and then got into poisonous ones.

"He even has snake tattoos all over his arms."

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