Life-saving antivenin comes at cost: $12,140 per vial


Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 5:33 p.m.

The rainy season is synonymous with snake season, putting the onus on local hospitals to have antivenin in stock.

The UF Health Shands Hospital typically has about 50 vials of antivenin on hand, said Melissa Lutz Blouin, a UF spokeswoman. She said a snakebite victim typically needs five to six vials.

Last month, however, that parameter was challenged when an 11-year-old boy bitten by an Eastern diamondback, the most venomous pit viper snake, needed 80 vials of antivenin before successfully overcoming the bite.

The hospital quickly recovered its stock of antivenin and is back up to its normal level, Blouin said.

The antivenin, called CroFab, is the only FDA-approved antivenin for bites from rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins. It costs $2,700 per 1-gram vial, but hospitals generally mark up the price to account for the costs of storing, handling and administering it.

Shands charges $12,140 per vial, Blouin said.

"The markup reflects an industry standard based on the fact that Medicaid and Medicare pay well below the actual costs, and most managed care companies get a substantial discount," she added.

Antivenin is a serum made with sheep or horse antibodies that binds to the snake venom in the body, deactivating it and allowing for the body to eliminate it.

The venom can last for a week in the body, and the shelf life of antivenin is just 12 hours, so multiple vials might be needed depending on the severity of the bite.

Crofab is sold to hospitals in freeze-dried form and must be mixed with liquid slowly to prevent the antivenin proteins from breaking apart.

"Administering antivenin in a timely manner to a patient with a snakebite requires the labor and expertise of a team of highly trained individuals performing precise, careful, rapid work in a sterile environment," Blouin said, adding this partly explains the marked-up price.

North Florida Regional Medical Center also keeps antivenin in stock, although it hasn't treated a snakebite since last year, a hospital spokeswoman said.

ontact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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