Summary

In Kerala, south-western India, five patients developed systemic envenoming after bites by hump-nosed pit vipers (Hypnale hypnale), proved by identification of the snakes responsible. Two of the dead snakes had been misidentified as saw-scaled vipers (Echis carinatus), while three had remained unidentified. Symptoms of local envenoming were pain, swelling, haemorrhagic blistering, bruising and regional lymphadenopathy. Systemic symptoms included headache, nausea, vomiting and abdominal and chest pain. There was evidence of haemostatic dysfunction (coagulopathy, fibrinolysis, thrombocytopenia or spontaneous systemic haemorrhage) in all cases and of microangiopathic haemolysis in two. Two patients were haemodialysed for acute renal failure, one of whom developed pulmonary oedema requiring mechanical ventilation. In India, H. hypnale has not previously been regarded as a cause of frequent or potentially dangerous envenoming. Its medical importance has been overlooked throughout its geographical range, probably because of confusion with other small species. No specific antivenom exists, yet most patients are treated with non-specific antivenoms, risking reactions without hope of benefit. An effective antivenom is urgently needed in south India and in Sri Lanka, where this species is also a common cause of bites.

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