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Scorpion Anti-Venom Speeds Children's Recovery

Available in Mexico but not in U.S., it could make ICU stays unnecessary, study suggests

WEDNESDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- An anti-venom medication used in Mexico but not approved for use in the United States appears able to quickly and completely help children recover from the nerve poisoning caused by the bark scorpion's sting, a new study finds.

It typically took less than two hours for the irregular eye movements, involuntary thrashing of limbs, breathing difficulties and other symptoms to disappear in all eight children in the study who were given the drug after suffering a bite from a bark scorpion, according to the research lead by University of Arizona researchers.

Seven children who were also stung but given a placebo continued to have symptoms for more than four hours and needed heavy sedation and hospitalization to fully recover, the researchers say.

The children in the study, published in the May 14 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, had all been brought into a Tucson, Ariz., pediatric intensive care unit for treatment following the sting. Most of the sting victims were under the age of 6.

"This study told us that the dangerous effects of bark scorpion venom can be reversed quickly with the right anti-venom," Dr. Leslie Boyer, principal investigator of the study and director of the Venom Immunochemistry, Pharmacology and Emergency Response Institute at The University of Arizona College of Medicine, said in a news release issued by the university. "One-hundred percent of the children who received it got better very quickly, meaning that using this anti-venom in the emergency room will make intensive care treatment unnecessary for most patients."

The anti-venom, while commercially available in Mexico, is considered an experimental drug in the United States and has not received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Boyer said making the drug available in areas with scorpions, especially small towns, could save lives and save money on treatments.

"What was a life-threatening disease that would put kids in the pediatric ICU has become, for most of them, an outpatient disease," study team member Dr. Andreas Theodorou, a professor of pediatrics and chief medical officer of University Medical Center in Tucson, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about scorpion bites.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Arizona, College of Pharmacy, news release, May 13, 2009

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