A NEW species of death adder – a major killer in Papua New Guinea – has been found by the Australian Venom Research Unit, according to clinical toxinologist and herpetologist David “Snakeman” Williams.
In other snake news, Australian-made Commonwealth Serum laboratories tiger snake anti-venom has the strongest binding affinity for lethal toxins in small-eyed snake venom, small-eyed snake being a major killer in PNG, particularly on Karkar Island in Madang province.
Mr Williams told The National about these developments as he prepares to leave Papua New Guinea this week to take up a new posting with the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We have been studying the taxonomy of death adders in PNG for several years, in collaboration with the University of Wales in the UK, and have identified at least one new species of death adder, which we will be naming soon,” he said.
“We are also investigating regional variation in the venom of death adders to determine how effective current anti-venoms are at neutralising the lethal effects of death adder bites from all areas of the country.
“University of PNG masters in medical science student, Owen Paiva, is leading the local venom work, and will be collaborating with scientists from the University of Melbourne and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to try and map the diversity of toxins in death adder venoms from different parts of PNG.
“The project has in part been driven by the discovery that patients bitten by death adders in the North Fly district of Western province sometimes develop severe renal failure after death adder bites, something that has not been reported elsewhere in PNG or in Australia.
“Since renal dialysis is rarely possible in Port Moresby, let alone in Western province, this is a major issue for health workers in the North Fly, and we need to determine as quickly as possible whether or not Australian-made anti-venom will prevent the development of renal failure if administered as soon as possible after a bite occurs.”
As regards the small-eyed snake, Mr Paiva has studied the venom of the New Guinea small-eyed snake for his MMedSci, and one of the key discoveries has been the finding that Australian-made CSL tiger snake anti-venom has the strongest binding affinity for lethal toxins in small-eyed snake venom.
“Tiger snake anti-venom is also present in the CSL polyvalent anti-venom, but Owen’s finding that the monovalent CSL tiger snake anti-venom bound the small-eyed snake toxins at half the concentration needed if you use polyvalent anti-venom is a very important result,” Mr Williams said.
“It provides strong evidence for the use of CSL tiger snake anti-venom in the treatment of small-eyed snake bites, instead of the much more-expensive polyvalent anti-venom, which costs almost five times more.