Viper’s venom harvested at KY Reptile Zoo to aid in medical diagnosis

Photo: WKYT/Adam Burniston
Photo: WKYT/Adam Burniston(WKYT)
Published: May. 17, 2019 at 4:04 PM EDT
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The Russell's Viper is one of roughly 1,000 reptiles that get venom extracted at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo in Powell County. The properties of the snake’s venom are unlike other snakes, however, and it’s actually helping detect antiphospholipid syndrome.

Native to Southeast Asia, the Russell's Viper's venom has been in use within the medical community for detecting Lupus anticoagulant. Because the auto-immune disease has an antibody that affects the way people's blood clots, Kristen Wiley with the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, says this snake's venom can make it easier for doctors to detect that antibody.

"It is used in a test of that particular clotting step, and so it's one of the diagnostic tests that doctors can use to determine if people have that antibody," says Wiley.

While getting bit by venomous snakes is never a good thing, Wiley says this use of venom is a great example of how something so dangerous can also be good.

"Here's an animal that people are afraid of, and Russell's Vipers actually cause a lot of snake bites in Southeast Asia, but here's this same exact animal that's also able to help people. I think that's an important thing to remember with all of the natural world is that it all helps us out in one way or another."

In Kentucky, there are only four venomous snakes out of the 33 different kinds of species indigenous to the state, but overall Kristen says as long as you keep your distance, they're actually beneficial to have as they kill mice and other rodents around your home.

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