Antivenom: An Introduction

A venomous animal envenomates a person, now what? Well, they go to the hospital, and depending on the situation, they may receive something called antivenom. Antivenom is a serum of antibodies. An antibody is “A protein made by plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) in response to an antigen (a substance that causes the body to make a specific immune response). Each antibody can bind to only one specific antigen. The purpose of this binding is to help destroy the antigen. Some antibodies destroy antigens directly. Others make it easier for white blood cells to destroy the antigen.” – Ref. Therefore antivenom is a serum of antibodies that is injected into the body to destroy the venom. 

How Antivenom is Made

To make antivenom for humans, scientists use a vertebrate animal, perhaps a horse for example, and give them small doses of the venom of a specific venomous animal. The host animal then begins to produce antibodies to fight and destroy the venom within its own body. Scientists then harvest the blood without killing or hurting the animal to create a purified serum that can be used in humans to destroy same specific kind of venom.

Here is a video of How Venom is Made in Spanish from the Instituto Clodomiro Picado

How To Get Antivenom

Major hospitals will probably already have the antivenom for medically significant venomous species native to its own country.

In the U.S., antivenom can be expensive, and or you may want antivenom for non-native species. To solve this problem, you can purchase foreign antivenom.

I have not personally purchased antivenom, but I can tell you what I know: The following link will explain what you need to do about getting foreign antivenom, and only for the United States (I am not familiar with the process in other countries): Information on the Use of Antivenoms from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Cost of Antivenom

Antivenom can cost thousands of dollars to perhaps only a couple of dollars. This is because antivenom can come in different qualities, and while the FDA does not accept them all, that does not stop you from legally buying foreign and cheap antivenom as explained above. 

Keep in mind if you are bitten, in most cases, you will probably need more than one vial of antivenom; and that is why it gets costly fast. For example, Crofab, which is antivenom for North American venomous snakes, can be in the thousands of dollars for one vial. It is very easy to have a hospital bill of $100,000 when the dust settles, so being bitten is not an option. Antivenom is expensive for many reasons, but perhaps mainly because of a worldwide supply shortage. Hopefully, we will find a better alternative to antivenom soon, or we will effectively produce a lot more of it.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain