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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 18:54 GMT
Eggs 'hold key to snakebite survival'
Eggs
The humble egg could save thousands of lives

A research institute in India says it has developed a way of using eggs as an antidote to potentially fatal snake-bites.

The Vitthal Mallya Research Institute in the southern Indian city of Bangalore says its scientists have developed the technique after three years of intensive research.

A Cobra
A snake-bite from a cobra can be fatal
The institute's director, Dr PV Subba Rao, told the BBC that until now the antidote was prepared by injecting horses with snake venom.

The animal then develops antibodies against the poison in its blood. But Dr Rao said the process is very painful.

"We will extract the antidote from the yolk of an egg," said Dr Rao.

"The antidote will then be injected to a snake-bite victim," he added.

Widespread problem

According to some estimates, around 15,000 people die in India every year due to snake bites.

Chickens
Chickens will develop immunity as they grow
Dr Rao says the four most venomous species of snake - cobra, krait, russells viper and saw-scaled viper - are found in most parts of India.

But he said his scientists have now developed the antidote to their deadly bites.

The process of producing antidotes starts with immunising chickens when they are just four weeks old.

They are injected with a small amount of snake venom when they reach the age of 12 weeks.

Antidote

They develop immunity to the venom by the time they are 20 weeks old.

Traditional doctor (L) treating Indian patient (painting from Wellcome Institute library)
India often successfully combines modern and tradition medicine
The eggs laid by the chickens would then have the ability to work as an antidote.

Dr Rao says the process would be much cheaper than the existing one, as an average hen lays around 250 eggs every year.

He said one egg would produce at least 5 milligrams of antidote, which would be enough to save one life.

Dr Rao said tests were presently under way to determine whether the antidote has any side effects.

Earlier, the same institute developed a unique technique which helped in identifying the species of a snake from a victim of snake-bite.

The institute is awaiting the Indian Government's approval before launching it on the market.

See also:

02 Jun 02 | Health
06 Jan 03 | South Asia
30 Sep 02 | Health
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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