The Pharmacy and Poisons Board has issued an alert against fake snake anti-venom that has found its way into the Kenyan market.
“The board would like to notify the general public of the following falsified and unregistered anti-snake venom products in circulation,” the regulatory body said in a statement to media houses.
PPB named the brand ‘Puff Udder’, with Lot Number 000697, and the date of manufacture indicated as September 2015, and the expiry date shown as September 2022.
The second anti-venom named by the board is indicated as ‘Ant Venom’, and has no manufacture, dosage and usage instruction details.
The puff adder is a dangerous snake which is responsible for the highest rate of snake bite deaths in Kenya.
Puff adders are tropical snakes that tend to bask in the sun, often in the middle of well-worn footpaths. The slow-moving reptiles do not move out of the way when they hear movement. They can strike with lightning speed, and then withdraw and prepare for a second strike.
The poison quickly knocks down the prey so that it does not get away and breaks down the tissue to make it easier to digest.
An adder’s venom contains a cytotoxin, which means that it destroys tissue, and necrosis sets in around the bite.
If not treated, the bite is fatal and the area around the bite will continue to die and this may lead to amputation of the affected limb.
The PPB announcement raises questions about how the venom was able to pass scrutiny at the country’s ports of entry, and how it ended up on the shelves, and how long it has been on sale in Kenyan chemists.
Venom from snake to snake even in the same species, depending on the region it is from, making the manufacture of effective venom a challenging task.
“Producing antivenom is challenging because it requires venom from the snakes of all ages, different eco-zones and also during different seasons,” said Dr Tom Menge, a toxicologist and chief pharmacist at Kenyatta National Hospital, in a previous interview.
In Kenya there is no facility to manufacture antivenom. The James Ashe Anti-Venom Trust (JAAT), based in the organisation’s snake farm located in the coastal region of Kilifi County, purchases its supplies from South Africa for the safety of the farm’s snake handlers.
It also provides the antivenom on a non-profit making basis, upon request and in consultation with doctors treating dangerous snakebites.
A 10cc vial costs about ShSh20,000 and the recommended dose varies between two and four vials, making the medication a preserve of well-off Kenyans in most cases.
Data on the number of deaths resulting from snake bites in Kenya are still not available as it has not been comprehensively collected and analysed.