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Maryland Woman Bitten by Cobra; Assistant Curator Responds with Anti-Venom

It was a strange story from start to finish, but the Philadelphia Zoo helped steer things toward a happy ending. A woman told fire department emergency responders in Baltimore that she was getting into her car at a shopping-center parking lot Sunday night when she was bitten on the hand by a cobra, which she had picked up thinking it was a stick.

The woman, who officials didn't identify, apparently got the snake into a bag and brought it with her to a walk-in medical center, where it was isolated in a trash can, said Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Amacost. Fire department personnel rushed the woman from the clinic to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

As the drama unfolded in Baltimore, Jason Bell, assistant curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Philadelphia Zoo, was watching football on TV at his home in suburban Philadelphia. An emergency phone call from Maryland Poison Control, which was searching for anti-venom through a Web site called the anti-venom index, propelled Bell out of his chair and into his office.

In a stroke of good fortune, the Philadelphia Zoo had anti-venom that would work for the bite of the cobra, a type called a "monocled cobra" from Southeast Asia, even though the zoo had no snakes of that kind at the zoo. It had the anti-venom for other cobras on display. Bell said he packed up 30 vials of the refrigerated anti-venom, and waiting Pennsylvania State Police rushed it by car to a halfway point where they turned over the vials to a Johns Hopkins ambulance crew.

They couldn't fly it by helicopter because of heavy rain on Sunday. Doctors had to use 10 vials of the anti-venom to bring the woman around, Bell said. The anti-venom used was made in South Africa and costs about $150 a vial, he said. Bell said the woman was lucky she was bitten on the finger and not closer to the heart, where bites can be deadly. The severity of the bite also depends on the amount of venom the snake injects and the general health of the victim.

Kim Hammond, a Baltimore-area veterinarian who helped search for anti-venom to save the woman, cast doubt on the parking-lot story, saying snakes, which are cold-blooded animals, cannot survive outdoors in cold weather. The woman told authorities she was not the snake's owner and apparently never explained why she would pick up a stick in a parking lot in the first place.

The snake eventually ended up warm and cozy in a local zoo.

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