Snakebite: Two years and 200 cases later

snakebite

We practice as independent doctors right after MBBS in Nepal. One of my professors used to say, “One day, you will sleep as a medical student and wake up as a doctor.” What that meant for me was, after I graduate from medical school, I’d pack my bags and head towards a rural village to “save lives.” Like any other life transitions, this one felt unchartered, unknown, and scary. I felt severely underprepared. As time passed by, I started appreciating my internship year. We have a year of internship after MBBS at the teaching hospital where we work as a junior doctor. At Beltar—my workplace, I’d remember how the patient with enteric fever was managed back home, brush up on the details with a quick read in UptoDate, and play doctor.

"One day, you will sleep as a medical student and wake up as a doctor." What that meant for me was, after I graduate from medical school, I'd pack my bags and head towards a rural village to "save lives." Like any other life transitions, this one felt unchartered, unknown, and scary. I felt severely underprepared.

The general structure of how I practiced medicine was; model what my professors used to do, read up on what is new/has changed, and treat patients. One day, some people carried a young child with droopy eyes, flappy tongue, and drowning in his saliva to the PHC. “He was bit by this snake!” The man with tearful eyes was holding on to a dead brown snake. Do you see a problem there? My go-to structure for practicing medicine crumbled. Underprepared would be an understatement. We were lucky that a team of trained armies helped set up the snake bite center in the PHC.

As some months passed by, I started feeling somewhat competent in managing snakebite cases. Any lesson you learn in medicine is a work in progress, but here are some I can recall:

The oversimplified version of snakebite treatment is–give antivenom and wait. In my experience, what we do while waiting, matters a lot. The neurotoxin that makes the patient paralyzed does not shut his brain down. He can listen and see, and we can use that to our advantage. Tell him what you are doing. Let him know what to expect. Talk to him. Open his eyes and make him see his loved ones are nearby. Make him believe that people are working hard to help him.

Amid scrutinized protocols, results of giant multi-center RCTs, and excellent well-formatted articles, it is easy to forget that what we do is taking care of a patient—the most basic of human skills. “LATERAL RECUMBENT!” I found myself shouting out of instinct. The patient was drowning in his saliva. My team tried hard to protect the patient’s airway as per protocol by extending his neck. But the patient was having a hard time breathing due to secretions. Sure we could not use the suction; unreliable electricity supply, broken suction machine, lack of funding, and whatnot, but we could still care. Use your mirror neurons; what would you want people to do if you were where the patient is?

Timely referral can be the difference between life and death. Understand the limitations of where you are working. Do you have a properly functioning suction? How reliable is your electricity? Do you have a ventilator? How far would you have to send the patient to get one? Manage your internal alarm accordingly. For us, the only respiratory support was a bag valve mask, and the transport to the nearest facility with a ventilator was at least 2 hours. Knowing that helps you be acceptably anxious and make informed decisions.

There is no substitution for empathetic yet informative communication with the patient and their loved ones. Clarify your assessment, plan, and signs that will prompt you to refer the patient. Talk to the anxious patient parties in a supportive tone but tell them that antivenom has ADRs, probably more than most drugs you use. When working in rural, especially in high-risk cases like snakebite, keeping the patient and their caretakers informed should be a priority.

Talk about ways to prevent snake bites. These beautiful creatures aren’t violent. Be interested in how the patient was bitten. After a while, you will start recognizing a pattern that you can use to educate the target population. Also, not everyone comes with the snake to the hospital. Have a poster of different types of snakes available. Identifying if the snake was venomous is one of the initial steps, after all. Print the local and national statistics about antivenom use and results and paste them in the waiting area. It will help patient parties calibrate their expectations accordingly.

A visual poster of common snakes found in Nepal placed at the entrance of Snakebite Treatment Center.

Summer and rainy seasons are when the unfortunate encounters between humans and snakes happen. It is easy to forget the snakebite management protocol, equipment necessary, what workarounds were used to help us, and what drugs we have in stock. A small refresher session can go a long way in boosting your team’s confidence in treating snakebites.

Snakebite Management Protocol posted in treatment center.
Logistics arranged for snakebite management.
Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "Snakebite: Two years and 200 cases later," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, February 1, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/02/01/snakebite/, date accessed: July 3, 2022

Recent blog posts by Carmina Shrestha

Anaphylaxis in a Nutshell

anaphylaxis in a nutshell

Anaphylaxis can be broadly defined as a severe, life-threatening, generalized or systemic hypersensitivity reaction. Literature suggests that anaphylaxis is not always easily recognized in the Emergency Department (ED). One study indicates around 50% of cases being misdiagnosed and up to 80% do not receive appropriate first-line treatment.

Triggers

The most commonly identified triggers of anaphylaxis include food, drugs and venom, but it is important to note that 30% of the cases can be idiopathic. Among drugs, muscle relaxants, antibiotics, NSAIDs and aspirin are the most commonly implicated.

Which patients are at an increased risk of anaphylaxis severity and mortality?

Extremes of age

Co-morbid conditions (asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease)

Concurrent use of beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors

While the overall prognosis of anaphylaxis is good, the key to avoiding adverse outcomes is by prompt recognition and initiation of appropriate interventions. Below are key points to guide your management of anaphylaxis in the ED.

Recognizing Anaphylaxis in the ED

Anaphylaxis reactions vary significantly in duration and severity and a single set of criteria will not identify all anaphylactic reactions. The World Allergy Organization (WAO) has suggested the following criteria to help ED physicians be more consistent in their recognition of anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is highly likely when any one of the following three criteria is fulfilled

1. Acute onset of an illness (minutes to several hours) with involvement of the skin, mucosal tissue, or both (eg, generalized urticaria, itching or flushing, swollen lips-tongue-uvula) AND AT LEAST ONE OF THE FOLLOWING

  • Respiratory compromise (eg, dyspnea, wheeze-bronchospasm, stridor, reduced PEF, hypoxemia)
  • Reduced blood pressure or associated symptoms of end-organ dysfunction (eg. hypotonia [collapse], syncope, incontinence) OR

2. Two or more of the following that occur rapidly after exposure to a likely allergen for that patient (minutes to several hours)

  • Involvement of the skin-mucosal tissue (eg, generalized urticaria, itch-flush, swollen lips-tongue-uvula)
  • Respiratory compromise (eg, dyspnea, wheeze-bronchospasm, stridor, reduced PEF, hypoxemia)
  • Reduced blood pressure or associated symptoms (eg, hypotonia [collapse], syncope, incontinence)
  • Persistent gastrointestinal symptoms (eg, crampy abdominal pain, vomiting) OR

3. Reduced blood pressure after exposure to known allergen for that patient (minutes to several hours)

  • Infants and children: low systolic blood pressure (age-specific) or greater than 30% decrease in systolic blood pressure
  • Adults: systolic blood pressure of less than 90 mm Hg or greater than 30% decrease from that person’s baseline

Management Algorithm of Anaphylaxis in the ED

Anaphylaxis algorithm
Anaphyaxis algorithm 2

Key Points in Management

References and Further Reading

Cite this article as: Neha Hudlikar, UAE, "Anaphylaxis in a Nutshell," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 31, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/01/31/anaphylaxis-in-a-nutshell/, date accessed: July 3, 2022

SAFE-BBOP! – A mnemonic for anaphylaxis management in the emergency department

anaphylaxis

While recently experiencing eight incredible weeks of Emergency Medicine rotations, I was reviewing my approach to anaphylaxis. Coincidentally, there was a real case a few days later, and I found the following mnemonic useful. If you’re having trouble remembering the different components of management for adult cases of anaphylaxis in the emergency department, think of SAFE-BBOP

This is not the exact order in which anaphylaxis should be approached, but it may facilitate memorizing commonly-used treatment modalities while learning and reviewing the general approach. The ABC algorithm should be applied first (see: https://iem-student.org/abc-approach-critically-ill/). Following the diagnosis of anaphylaxis, epinephrine should be administered promptly, as delayed administration has been associated with increased mortality (1-4).

SAFE BBOP

S - Steroids

Prednisone 50mg PO or methylprednisolone 125mg IV. Glucocorticoids are theoretically used to prevent a possible biphasic reaction; however, there is limited evidence for this.

A - Antihistamines (H1 and H2)

Ranitidine 150mg PO/50mg IV, Diphenhydramine 25-50mg PO/IV. Their use is based on studies of urticaria and should only be used as an adjunct therapy.

F - Fluids

Normal saline or Ringer’s lactate 1-2 L IV.

B - Beta-blocked

If a patient is on a beta-blocker and is refractory to the administered epinephrine, consider glucagon 1-5mg slow IV bolus over 5mins, followed by an infusion at 5-15mcg/min, titrated to effect.

B - Bronchodilators

For persistent bronchospasm despite epinephrine, an inhaled bronchodilator can be considered, such as salbutamol 2.5-5mg nebulized or 4-8 puffs by MDI with spacer q20 mins x 3. This is based on studies of acute asthma exacerbation and should only be used as an adjunct therapy.

O - Oxygen

Every patient, who is critically ill, requires supportive oxygen treatment.

P - Positioning

Recumbent position with lower extremity elevation (consider left lateral decubitus position for pregnant patients to prevent inferior vena cava compression).

As for disposition considerations, the SAFE system below was introduced by Lieberman et al. (2007) to recognize the four basic actions to address with patients prior to discharge from the emergency department (5).

  • Seek support
  • Allergen identification and avoidance
  • Follow-up for specialty care
  • Epinephrine for emergencies

For a detailed review of anaphylaxis definitions, signs and symptoms, refer to this great Life in the Fast Lane article: https://litfl.com/anaphylaxis/

References

  1. Prince, B.T., Mikhail, I., & Stukus, D.R. (2018). Underuse of epinephrine for the treatment of anaphylaxis: missed opportunities. J Asthma Allergy, 11, 143-151.
  2. Sheikh, A., Shehata, Y., Brown, S.G., & Simons, F.E. (2009). Adrenaline for the treatment of anaphylaxis: Cochrane systematic review. Allergy, 64(2), 204.
  3. Simons, F.E. (2008). Emergency treatment of anaphylaxis. BMJ, 336(7654), 1141.
  4. McLean-Tooke, A.P., Bethune, C.A., Fay, A.C., & Spickett, G.P. (2003). Adrenaline in the treatment of anaphylaxis: what is the evidence? BMJ, 327, 1332.
  5. Lieberman, P.,Decker, W., Camargo, C.A. Jr., Oconnor, R., Oppenheimer, J., & Simons, F.E. (2007). SAFE: a multidisciplinary approach to anaphylaxis education in the emergency department. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 98(6), 519-23. 
 

Further Reading

Cite this article as: Nada Radulovic, Canada, "SAFE-BBOP! – A mnemonic for anaphylaxis management in the emergency department," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, December 11, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/12/11/a-mnemonic-for-anaphylaxis-management/, date accessed: July 3, 2022