Producing antivenom for snake bites is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that saves lives. But different antivenom must be developed and produced for each of the wildly different species of venomous snakes all over the world. One institution in Costa Rica has perfected the art of raising snakes far from their native environment, extracting venom, inoculating horses, and isolating the targeted antibodies from their blood.
The Instituto Clodomiro Picado, or ICP, named after the father of Costa Rican herpetology, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of snake antivenoms, and the only one in Central America. The need for antivenoms is far more urgent than a person living in a developed nation blessed with a temperate climate might suppose. Globally, venomous snakebites kill roughly 100,000 people each year, mostly in South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In these regions’ poorer corners, local capacities for antivenom production are limited or nonexistent; the ICP has stepped in to help fill the gaps. Beyond meeting its own country’s needs, the institute has supplied or developed lifesaving antivenoms for victims on four continents, each treatment customized to protect against species that still pose lethal threats, from the West African carpet viper to the Papuan taipan.
Founded 50 years ago to save Costa Ricans from the dreaded terciopelo, or the fer-de-lance snake that causes a terribly painful death with one bite, the institute now serves the entire world. Read how they do it at Smithsonian.
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