U.S. Military Doctors Rely On Iranian Snake Antivenin When Soldiers Are Bit In Afghanistan

May 12, 2012

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan who are bit by venomous snakes such as Oxus cobras and Haly's pit vipers are given antivenin that is created in Iran by the state run Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute, according to a news report in the Wall Street Journal. The report says medical guidance that is issued by U.S. Central Command says that the Iranian antivenin should be the first line of antivenin therapy, in part because the institute's antivenins counter venom from Afghanistan's most common venomous snakes. This is in spite of U.S.-led international sanctions on Iran in an effort to discourage the country from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. According to the report, the Defense Department has purchased 115 vials of the antivenin through a middleman for $310 each since January of last year.

Naja oxiana

Photo by Omid Mozaffari/ Wikipedia

Oxus cobra.


"We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," Hadi Zareh, lead researcher in Razi's antivenin department told the Wall Street Journal. "We are happy to hear we have saved a person's life, even an American soldier." Zareh told the paper that the sanctions against Iran have made it more difficult for the institute to manufacture the very antivenin that the U.S. Central Command says should be the first line of antivenin therapy when soldiers or other U.S. personnel are bitten by a venomous snake in Afghanistan.

The sanctions have made it more difficult to buy chemicals and equipment needed to manufacture the antivenin and as a result, the prices of the drug have risen, Zareh said. In spite of the politics surrounding the Razi antivenin, it is still the go-to remedy in case of a snake bite. "If a patient comes in and I don't know the snake they got bit by, I'd give them Razi," Lt. Col. Aatif Sheikh, the military's top pharmacist at Bagram Airfield told the paper.

Thirteen types of venomous snakes can be found in Afghanistan, including the Oxus cobra (Naja oxiana), Haly's pit viper (Gloydius halys), Levantine viper (Macrovipera lebetina), and the saw-scaled viper (E. carinatus). Many of these snakes also occur in Iran, the report said.

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