Snake Eyes: Coral Snake Neurotoxicity Associated With Ocular Absorption of Venom and Successful Treatment With Exotic Antivenom

Scott A McAninch, Ryan P Morrissey, Patricia Rosen, Tricia A Meyer, Matthew M Hessel, Muhammad H Vohra
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2019 March 14

BACKGROUND: Coral snake bites from Micrurus fulvius and Micrurus tener account for < 1% of all snake bites in North America. Coral snake envenomation may cause significant neurotoxicity, including respiratory insufficiency, and its onset may be delayed up to 13 h.

CASE REPORT: We present a unique patient encounter of M. tener venom exposure through the ocular mucous membranes and a small cutaneous bite, resulting in neurotoxicity. To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of systemic neurotoxicity associated with ocular contact with coral snake venom. Our patient developed rapid-onset skeletal muscle weakness, which is very uncommon for M. tener, along with cranial nerve deficits. Acquisition of antivenom was challenging, but our patient provides a rare report of resolution of suspected M. tener neurotoxicity after receiving Central American coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) antivenom. Our patient subsequently developed serum sickness, a known delayed complication of antivenom. WHY SHOULD AN EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN BE AWARE OF THIS?: The emergency physician should be aware that coral snake venom may be absorbed through different routes. Neurotoxicity and respiratory insufficiency may be fatal and onset may be delayed up to 13 h. North American Coral Snake Antivenom is in very limited supply, so non-Food and Drug Administration-approved alternative coral snake antivenoms may be used for patients demonstrating neurotoxicity. Emergency physicians should be proactive in contacting a toxicologist to procure antivenom, as well as consideration of adjunctive treatments, such as neostigmine. Furthermore, whole immunoglobulin G products, such as antivenom, may result in immediate and delayed reactions.

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