Coral Snake

VIPER scientists are developing new ways to evaluate coral snake bite treatment.

Coral snake bite is a special challenge for the United States.

Although coral snakes are native to the southern US, bites in this country are very rare: fewer than 100 cases per year. This means that most US doctors never treat a case in their lifetimes, and that the condition is a hard one to study. It also means that antivenom manufacturers have a very difficult time earning enough money from sales to pay for the cost of making the product in the first place. As a result, the US is facing a serious shortage of coral snake antivenom. Doctors, scientists, manufacturers and the FDA agree that a new approach is needed or else people with coral snake bites may end up needing weeks of intensive care.

An excellent resource on the current status of coral snake antivenom, which includes details on the specific batches of product that can be purchased by hospitals in need, is available via the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa, at

VIPER has experience dealing with this kind of challenge.

Arizona faced a very similar situation during the scorpion antivenom shortage a few years ago, and VIPER led a successful collaboration involving US and Mexican partners in science, healthcare, and product development toward a solution for patients with scorpion sting. VIPER is now conducting studies that will apply lessons learned in Arizona to the situation across the southern USA. With support from an FDA orphan grant we're hoping to make it possible for colleagues in Florida to alleviate their shortage, while at the same time learning more about how antivenom works to treat this kind of snakebite. More information about our clinical study is available at

New approaches may be necessary, so VIPER is working on the science of coral snake venom injury, too.

Proving safety and effectiveness of coral snake antivenom with traditional clinical trials alone is not possible.  This is because in such a rare emergency condition as coral snake bite, where there is a chance of death from respiratory failure, it would not be ethical to use a placebo group for comparison; plus, patients may show up at any of hundreds of hospitals, not just where there are trained research teams. Scientists affiliated with VIPER are working to improve our understanding of exactly how coral snake venom works, and how it travels from the bitten body part to the nerves where it exerts its effect. Results of this research will be used to improve the way that we study treatment of venom injury, including the details of how antivenom works.

The study drug is currently available at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fl, Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Meyers, Fl and Florida Hospital DeLand, in DeLand, Fl. For more information, click here.