BACKGROUND: Envenoming from snakebites is most effectively treated by antivenom. However, the antivenom available in South Asian countries commonly causes acute allergic reactions, anaphylactic reactions being particularly serious. We investigated whether adrenaline, promethazine, and hydrocortisone prevent such reactions in secondary referral hospitals in Sri Lanka by conducting a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. METHODS AND FINDINGS: In total, 1,007 patients were randomized, using a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of adrenaline (0.25 ml of a 1∶1,000 solution subcutaneously), promethazine (25 mg intravenously), and hydrocortisone (200 mg intravenously), each alone and in all possible combinations. The interventions, or matching placebo, were given immediately before infusion of antivenom. Patients were monitored for mild, moderate, or severe adverse reactions for at least 96 h. The prespecified primary end point was the effect of the interventions on the incidence of severe reactions up to and including 48 h after antivenom administration. In total, 752 (75%) patients had acute reactions to antivenom: 9% mild, 48% moderate, and 43% severe; 89% of the reactions occurred within 1 h; and 40% of all patients were given rescue medication (adrenaline, promethazine, and hydrocortisone) during the first hour. Compared with placebo, adrenaline significantly reduced severe reactions to antivenom by 43% (95% CI 25-67) at 1 h and by 38% (95% CI 26-49) up to and including 48 h after antivenom administration; hydrocortisone and promethazine did not. Adding hydrocortisone negated the benefit of adrenaline. CONCLUSIONS: Pretreatment with low-dose adrenaline was safe and reduced the risk of acute severe reactions to snake antivenom. This may be of particular importance in countries where adverse reactions to antivenom are common, although the need to improve the quality of available antivenom cannot be overemphasized.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pmed.1000435

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS Med

Publication Date

05/2011

Volume

8

Keywords

Adolescent, Adult, Anaphylaxis, Antivenins, Dose-Response Relationship, Drug, Double-Blind Method, Epinephrine, Female, Humans, Hydrocortisone, Male, Placebos, Promethazine, Snake Bites, Snake Venoms, Sri Lanka, Treatment Outcome