Experts are looking at the possibility of developing a universal anti-venom for India that will be effective against snakebite anywhere.
Eminent herpetologists Rom Whitaker and Gerry Martin extracted venom from 12 snakes of the Punjab region on Monday to further a national research project on regional variations in the toxin. The DNA tests on the skin the snakes have shed, the scale count and other taxonomic analysis will determine if the Punjab snakes are a different species from those found in the rest of India.
The tested reptiles included four of India's most venomous snakes, the common krait, five spectacled cobras, and three Russell's vipers. The vipers refused to yield much venom but one of the kraits, a gigantic five-foot long, yielded a huge amount. "Enough to kill all 10 people here (working on the project)," said Whitaker.
The cobras were also obliging in the extraction done at the house of Nikhil Sanger of Wildlife Conservation Society, Nawanshahr, who had provided the team with the snakes. The venom was placed quickly in dry ice to preserve it at low temperature, and in the evening taken to Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, for conversion to powder by using a lyophiliser.
The team has taken venom from six states, so far. "We need institutional support from the central government by way of funds and facilitation of permissions from the state governments to catch snakes. We need dedicated laboratories to analyse venom. The irony is that to solve a problem (snakebite) that claims 50,000 Indian lives a year, we have to beg the governments for support. It should be governments to come forward in public interest," said Whitaker.
The venom will be tested for potency, components, and effectiveness of the antidote serums, all this to develop the universal antidote by pooling together venom from the different regions of India so that a bite anywhere is covered. At present, the antidotes are made from venoms secured the snakes of Tamil Nadu primarily.
The team had come armed for any emergency that might occur during extraction. A list of Nawanshahr hospitals that keep anti-venom serum was prepared beforehand. The team slipped the snakes into acrylic restraining tubes and controlled the wrigglers by tail. Specialised sucking equipment ensured that not a drop of venom released into the vials was lost.