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from Lexington Herald-Leader

HOME   Man survives king cobra bite, but snake dies

By Kimberly Hefling

Thursday, October 28, 1999

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SLADE An Eastern Kentucky man bitten by a 15-foot king cobra lived to tell the tale, but the snake wasn't so lucky.

Jim Harrison, director of the non-profit Kentucky Reptile Zoo in Slade, was hospitalized Sunday. He was bitten on the thumb while treating the snake for pneumonia.

The snake, lacking medical assistance while Harrison was at the University of Kentucky Hospital, died. The snake did not have a name.

Harrison's bite is the 37th by a king cobra recorded in the world and the fifth in the United States, said Dr. Barry Gold, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Gold is a consultant to zoos, aquariums and poison centers about snake bites.

About one-third of the reported king cobra bites were fatal, Gold said.

Harrison said this is the 12th time he's been bitten by a snake, but the first time by a king cobra.

``I'd rather talk about the times I've not been bitten than the times I have been bitten,'' he said.

Harrison said he was fortunate in that he had plenty of antivenin on stock.

``Without antiserum and being prepared, I would've been dead,'' he said.

Harrison took his own supply of antivenin with him to Lexington. Gold was contacted, and advised physicians in Lexington about how much antivenin to give Harrison.

Harrison's symptoms included blurred vision, problems with numbness in his face, difficulty moving his tongue, severe headache and crushing chest pain, Gold said.

``Those were all symptoms to indicate he had sustained poisoning from the venom,'' Gold said.

Harrison was intravenously given 15 vials of antivenin. One day later, he walked out of the hospital, but could suffer side effects from the antivenin such as a rash.

The Kentucky Reptile Zoo has about 1,500 snakes many of which are on display outside Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Researchers worldwide regularly purchase venom from the zoo for research of several diseases. It is also used in the production of antivenin for poisonous bites.

Harrison said the problem now is that without the king cobra, the zoo has a big female cobra that no longer has a mate for the breeding season in February and March.

``We're trying to find her a boyfriend,'' he said.

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