Man Dies From Black Mamba Bite After Hospital Had No Antivenom to Treat Him

A man in Zimbabwe died after getting bitten by a black mamba because the hospital he was taken to did not have any antivenom to treat him.

Peter Dube, 60, was a former newspaper office worker and farmer. He was out picking mangoes on his orchid in mid-December when the black mamba struck.

According to The Sunday Mail, Dube was rushed to the Gwanda Provincial Hospital but there was no antivenom there to treat him.

Doctors were arranging to transport him to a larger facility in Bulawayo, approximately 60 miles away, that had antivenom in stock, but he died while waiting. "He's survived by his spouse and three sons and his proud family of the Huyabe Clan," the newspaper quoted his obituary as saying.

The black mamba is an extremely venomous species of snake, with a fatality rate of 100 percent if left untreated. It is thought to be one of Africa's most deadly snakes.

Dr. Rudo Chikodzore, provincial medical officer for Matabeleland South, where Gwanda is located, told The Sunday Mail that antivenom is available in the province.

"Quantities in the province are usually based on consumption estimates from previous years of the same time to ensure that stock does not expire on us," he told the newspaper.

Newsweek has contacted Zimbabwe's Health Service Board for comment.

Andreas Hougaard Laustsen-Kiel, Professor of Antibody Technologies at the Technical University of Denmark, told Newsweek how quickly black mamba venom kills depends on how much is injected, the size of the person, and where on the body they get bitten.

"That being said, the venom is very fast acting, and to my understanding it will typically be between a few hours and within a day," he said.

Black mambas, while often deadly, are generally extremely shy and will avoid people as much as possible.

"If the snake feels threatened it will bite, but it will not actively hunt humans as prey—as we are too big to swallow. This could include grabbing it, stepping on it, or getting too close to it," Hougaard Laustsen-Kiel said.

Professor Robert Harrison, Director of the African Snakebite Research Group at the U.K.'s Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, told Newsweek he has heard anecdotes of people dying in less than 20 minutes after being bitten by a black mamba.

"In the context of fatal envenoming by other snakes this is very rapid indeed—but black mambas are very large snakes, with venom glands that deliver substantial amounts of highly-neurotoxic venom and have the reputation of being especially aggressive snakes that are very ready to bite," he said. "These attributes make research on the circumstances and outcomes of envenoming by these snakes very challenging."

Snake bites are listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top Neglected Tropical Diseases. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 130,000 people die from snake bites every year, with many more left disabled as a result of envenomations (the exposure to a poison or toxin resulting from a bite or sting). The places most affected are Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The WHO is aiming to halve the number of deaths and disabilities from snake bites by 2030.

Harrison said the lack of anti-venom is a major problem in addressing snake bites as a global health problem. "It is the rural tropical communities that suffer most from snakebite because of their poor access to effective treatment," he said.

This article has been updated to include quotes from Professor Robert Harrison.

black mamba
Stock image of a black mamba. A man in Zimbabwe died from a black mamba bite after the hospital he was taken to did not have antivenom to treat him. Getty Images