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Medical Classification of Venom Activities

A medical classification of venom activities is based on specific clinical effects and a single venom toxin may have activities in several different areas (ie some PLA2 toxins have both presynaptic neurotoxic and myotoxic activity).

It is also important to consider the way the different activities may affect timing of onset of clinical effects.

Venom Toxicodynamics
In recent years it has been possible to measure venom or individual toxins over time in both experimental animals and human snakebite victims. Though this has so far only been performed for a very limited range of species, there is a greater understanding of the toxicodynamics of envenoming . In most cases, venom is injected fairly superficially, usually subcutaneously. Locally acting toxins causing tissue injury will already be at their target site, so will commence exerting their clinical effects immediately. A significant proportion of the venom, in some species perhaps most venom, will not be absorbed directly into the circulation. Instead it will be transported first via the lymphatic system, entering the circulation via the thoracic duct. This helps explain the common clinical finding of enlarged or tender lymph nodes draining the bite area and also the high concentration of venom in these nodes at autopsy. Transport via the lymphatic system may be rapid or sometimes delayed and there is a potential for sequestration of venom locally, with prolonged release over hours or days. Once in the circulation, those components affecting haemostasis or acting as haemorrhagins will have reached their target site and will quickly exert their effect. Similarly, nephrotoxins will quickly damage the kidneys. However, those toxins seeking extravascular targets, particularly the neurotoxins and myotoxins, will need to exit the circulation in sufficient concentration to exert their effect clinically, thus these toxins are most likely to have a delayed onset of clinically detectable actions. Some venoms are quickly cleared from the circulation, but others remain detectable for days or even weeks without antivenom therapy. Knowledge of such variations is clearly relevant in determining antivenom therapy.

Bite Site - local effects
Intravascular Compartment
Extravascular Compartment
Haemostatic System Toxins


Broad medical classification of snake venom activities.

Toxin activity type Clinical effects
Flaccid paralysis
Resistant to late antivenom therapy
Often reversal with antivenom therapy
Myotoxin Systemic skeletal muscle damage
Haemostatic system toxins Interfere with normal haemostasis, causing either bleeding or thrombosis
Haemorrhagins Damage vascular wall, causing bleeding
Nephrotoxins Direct renal damage
Cardiotoxins Direct cardiotoxicity
Necrotoxins Direct tissue injury at the bite site/bitten limb

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