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Taking Charge of Your Health


Bitten by a venomous snake? Well, you probably shouldn’t waste three precious minutes watching this video, but if you’re going to do it anyway, I can tell you that there is hope. Some animals have a natural resistance to snake venom like the snake-eating Honey Badger which can be bitten in the face by a cobra and still not care but for people, historically, you just had two choices: you could either just hope you’d recover, or you could just die. A lot of the time, you did both. but all that changed with Albert Calmette, French researcher, dedicated public health advocate, and co-creator of the tuberculosis vaccine Calmette also developed the first snake antivenom in the late 1890s. The story goes that Calmette was sent to Saigon, in what is now Vietnam by his mentor Louis Pasteur, one of the fathers of microbiology, to help inoculate people against smallpox and rabies. One day, a major flood swept through his village, flushing up a bunch of monocled cobras that started biting everyone. but Calmette was like “nuh-uh, snakes!” and, being an expert in the business of vaccine making, he whipped up an antivenom called “Calmette’s serum” His technique was so solid that it remains largely unchanged today. Antivenom works by stimulating the production of antibodies the highly specialised warrior proteins released by your immune system to neutralise dangerous antigens like viruses, bacteria, or, in this case, venom. Antivenom can’t destroy a venom’s toxins or reverse its ill effects but the antibodies they create can smother them, preventing further spread and rendering them harmless. And here’s how you make it. Step one: get some venom. To make antivenom, you need venom. And if you’re wondering about the name, yes – you can also call it “antivenin” if you want to; “venin” is actually the French word, and since he was French, that’s what it was originally called But a while back, the World Health Organisation decided that, in English at least, “antivenom” made a lot more sense. Anyway, to make an antidote for venom, you need a lot of it so, once you’ve got your bag of deadly snakes, grab one, open its mouth over a vial, and gently squeeze its venom glands until they’re empty. You’ll only get a little bit at a time, so multiple snakes must be “milked”, as they call it, many times to get enough venom. Fun. For example, in 1965, the National Institute of Health told famed snake-wrangler Bill Haast to collect about half a litre of Coral Snake venom. It took him 69,000 milkings, over a three-year period, to reach that goal. Step 2: Freeze the venom. Once the snake is milked, the venom is freeze-dried to concentrate and preserve it. Step 3: use some other animal to make antibodies. Find a horse, sheep, or goat, and inject them with little doses of the venom again and again over several weeks. This allows the animal to build antibodies and fight off the venom The antibodies peak after a couple of months, at which point they can be harvested by which, I mean that up to 6 litres of blood is typically drained from the animal’s jugular. But don’t worry; the animal isn’t bled to death. It will live on to enjoy the process all over again. Step 4: Purify, concentrate, and deliver. After the bloodletting is done, you filter out the antibodies, and then purify and concentrate them into dose vials If you need it, like, RIGHT NOW, then good! But if you’re just going to store it up for the next snake-handling encounter, then stash it in the freezer. The fact that antivenom must be kept cold poses a serious problem for developing countries with scarce electricity. Unfortunately, those tend to be the same places that are inundated with killer snakes. You’ve probably noticed by now that this whole process isn’t easy. Making antivenom is expensive and time-consuming, which is one reason why it suffers global supply shortages all the time. A single vial may cost over $1500, and a victim may require 20 to 30 vials to fully recover from a serious bite. But, there are other ways! Remember Bill Haast, and his half-litre of snake spit? He practiced a form of mithridatism, the process of making yourself immune to a toxin by gradually taking non-lethal amounts. He milked 100 snakes a day with his bare hands and made his own, decidedly lower-tech, antivenom leaving the horses out of it and using his own body. He pretty much single-handedly saved 21 snakebite victims by flying around the world, donating transfusions of his own blood. He lived to be 100 years old, surviving 172 snake bites, and only losing one finger to which I say… DANG! Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow If you have any questions or comments or suggestions, you can find us on Facebook or Twitter Or, of course, down in the comments below and if you want to keep getting smarter with us, you can go to youtube.com/scishow, and subscribe.

100 thoughts on “How To Make Antivenom

  1. One time in Vietnam, my cousin and I crossed this rice farm to see my other cousin. As we cross, we heard tongue slithering noise. We got so scared, so we haul ass out of that rice patty. When we get to the other end, we saw a brown blackish cobra standing straight up with it hood. From then on, we never used that stupid shortcut anymore.

  2. Honey badgers are great 👍 👑. They got bitten by the world's 🌎 most dangerous venomous snake king 👑 cobra 🐍in their face but don't care 🤷‍♀️

  3. In Saigon – Vietnam nowadays, there is still a bridge named after Calmette in the memory of his contribution to medical science.

  4. So what if we gave non lethal doses of venom over periods of time to make people living where it is commone to get bit imune. Why not treat it like a common thing to get your shot of venom? It would still be time consuming but cheaper and more efficient than trying to make loads of venom and also al those fun people can get bit all they want

  5. What would happen if u mixed multiple different snakes venom together. Would it become stronger or maybe cancel each other out??

  6. Why would we hurt the animals and not give small doses of venom to humans? So they can develop antibodies alone, and they have it whenever they need it, right?

  7. are there future methods or theoretical methods, that may replace this process in the future to result in more efficiency and higher volunes,,,, and antibodies how are they transferable between mammels without problems?

  8. In rural India people eat medicinal herbs to escape death from snake bite…. This is there from thousands of years

  9. Interesting…
    I thought that antivenoms are made to neutralise the venom. With chemistry… Like when you have acid in stomach (HCl right) you eat pills (CaCO3) and it makes (CaCl2 CO2 and water (just a guess)). Like neutralising it somehow… Didn't know it's antibodies that make the work 😮

    One learns all his life…
    Thank you for the video!
    And thank you for the laughter at the start 😀 "Honey Badger can be bitten by a cobra and still not care" 😀

  10. Dry Ice is an amazing innovation to keep things frozen for a long time. I personally think it's better than letting a venomous snake bite you, but just an opinion.

  11. Hello! 

    My name is Meirosu Ioana and I am from Romania. I am interested in selling 300 grams of Lyophilized Venom extracted from Horn-Nosed Viper. 

    The venom has 98.44% protein content and comes from own farm. I also posses all the necesary papers that confirms the quality of the product.

    I don't know where to sell it. Can you please help me with some informations about potential buyers? Where can I sell my product? Thank you for this video!

    Have a good day!

  12. To all those people who don't believe in vaccinations, then they also don't believe in antivenom. Good luck if you get bit!

  13. So if someone is immune to say rattlesnake and he gives his blood to a victim of it, does the blood have to be compatible with his own to accept the antibodies or what.

  14. but is there a way to actually reverse the protein in the venom to make something that will heal your wounds?

  15. Always thought wtf is antivenom are u sure venom is valuable of snake why but why then today i know everything feeling like scientific already gotcha leva that snake in wilderness i just caught minutes agi.

  16. If you are injected by a small dosage of snake venom your body will get used to it and it will start making anti-bodies to help fight against the venom

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