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Time is the foe for people who have been bitten by a poisonous snake, but a new study may give them a bit more of it. Researchers have identified an ointment that slows the spread of some kinds of snake venom through the body, potentially giving snakebite victims longer to reach a hospital or clinic.

Although poisonous snakes kill only a handful of people in the United States each year, the World Health Organization puts the global toll at about 100,000 people. When some snakes strike, the bulky proteins in their venom don't infiltrate the bloodstream immediately but wend through the lymphatic system to the heart. In Australia, a country slithering with noxious snakes, the recommended first aid for a bite includes tightly wrapping the bitten limb to shut the lymphatic vessels—a method called pressure bandage with immobilization (PBI). The idea is to hamper the venom's spread until the victim can receive antivenom medicine, essentially antibodies that lock onto and neutralize the poison. But PBI is not practical if the bite is on the torso or face, and one study found that even people trained to perform the technique do it right only about half the time. As a result, some people don't get antivenom in time.

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Category: Science