SIMON ISOLOMO AWOKE around 5 a.m., said goodbye to his wife and seven children, and climbed into his dugout canoe. That Tuesday in December 2018 had begun like many others in Isolomo’s 30 years of fishing in the province of Équateur, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Paddling on the Ikelemba River toward his fishing camp with a couple of friends, Isolomo, a 52-year-old French teacher, snacked on kwanga, a popular manioc dish, and enjoyed the cool morning air.
Three hours later they arrived at the camp, and Isolomo began checking the fishing lines he’d set up the day before. Feeling resistance on one, he thrust his hand into the murky water.
A sharp pain sent him reeling. Blood oozed from two puncture wounds on his hand. Just below the surface, a yellowish snake with black rings—probably a banded water cobra—slithered from view.
Isolomo’s companions helped him into the canoe and paddled frantically back to their village of Iteli. By the time they arrived, about three hours after Isolomo was bitten, he was slipping in and out of consciousness.
“His eyes had changed color, and he was vomiting,” his wife, Marie, recalls, starting to cry. After a traditional healer applied a tourniquet, they set out by canoe for the hospital in Mbandaka, the provincial capital, some 60 miles away. But before they arrived, Isolomo stopped breathing and died.
Isolomo’s story encapsulates the global snakebite crisis: Bitten in a remote area, hours from the closest hospital, he didn’t have a chance. As many as 138,000 people around the world die from snakebites each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and roughly 95 percent of those deaths occur in poor, rural communities in developing nations. Another 400,000 people survive with amputated limbs and other permanent disabilities.
One of the worst-hit locations is sub-Saharan Africa, where up to 30,000 deaths from snakebites are believed to occur each year. But some doctors and snakebite experts say the true toll may be double that. A major factor is a severe shortage of the only medicine that can neutralize the toxins of dangerous snakes: antivenom. Complicating matters is that many victims, for lack of money or transportation, or because of distrust of Western medicine, don’t go to hospitals—or don’t get there in time. Staff at many health centers are insufficiently trained to treat snakebites, and even if the drug is on hand, it’s too expensive for many victims. Additionally, most of the more reliable African antivenoms need to be kept refrigerated to stay stable and effective. With frequent power cuts, even in cities, keeping them cold can be nearly impossible.
To draw attention to the snakebite crisis and to attract funding for research and treatment, in 2017 WHO added snakebite envenomation to its roster of neglected tropical diseases, which includes rabies, dengue, and leprosy. In 2019 it announced a goal of slashing the number of annual deaths and disabilities from envenomation by 50 percent by 2030—an undertaking that could cost nearly $140 million.
Most African snakebite victims are farmers who work in remote fields barefoot or in sandals, making them particularly vulnerable. Once a venomous snake strikes, a race against the clock begins. Transport to the nearest hospital can take hours, even days. By then it may be too late.
The venom of elapids, a family of snakes that includes mambas and cobras, can kill within hours. Their neurotoxins rapidly paralyze respiratory muscles, making breathing impossible. The venom of vipers, however, can take several days to kill, interfering with clotting and leading to inflammation, bleeding, and tissue death.
Agile and arboreal, the eastern green mamba is one of four African mamba species. Mamba strikes can release a neurotoxic venom that acts quickly, paralyzing respiratory muscles and causing death by asphyxiation.
A puff adder, one of Africa’s most dangerous snakes, basks on a warm rock in Guinea. In 2017 the World Health Organization added snakebite to its list of neglected tropical diseases, spotlighting this health crisis to attract funding for research and treatment.
“A number of them have reduced the number of these (virus) receptors by 73 per cent, the chance of it getting in is much lower,” said Kovalchuk.
“If they can reduce the number of receptors, there’s much less chance of getting infected.”
Employing cannabis sativa strains over the past three months, the researcher said the effective balance between cannabis components THC and CBD — the latter more typically associated with medical use — is still unclear in blocking the novel coronavirus.
Kovalchuk, whose Pathway RX is owned partly by Olds-based licensed cannabis producer Sundial Growers and partnered with Alberta cannabis researcher Swysh.
But it’s generally the anti-inflammatory properties of high-CBD content that have shown most promise, he added.
“We focus more on the higher CBD because people can take higher doses and not be impaired,” said Kovalchuk.
The study under Health Canada licence using artificial human 3-D tissue models has been seeking ways to hinder the highly contagious novel coronavirus from finding a host in the lungs, intestines, and oral cavity.
If successful, the work could find practical medical use in the form of mouth wash, gargle, inhalants or gel caps, said Kovalchuk.
“It would be cheaper for people and have a lot less side-effects,” he said.
But the absence of clinical trials remains a barrier, and funding from an increasingly cash-strapped cannabis industry isn’t there to fuel that, said Kovalchuk.
“We have clinicians who are willing to work with us but for a lot of companies in the cannabis business, it’s significant cash that they can’t afford,” he said.
The scientist emphasized the findings wouldn’t lead to a vaccine — something “less specific and precise” but nonetheless another possible weapon against COVID-19.
“The extracts of our most successful and novel high CBD C sativa lines, pending further investigation, may become a useful and safe addition to the treatment of COVID-19 as an adjunct therapy,” said Kovalchuk.
“Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”
Israeli researchers have begun clinical trials of CBD as a treatment to repair cells damaged by COVID-19 by using its anti-inflammatory abilities.
It’s thought CBD could enhance the traditional effect of steroids in such treatment of patients in life-threatening condition and also bolster the immune system.
It’s the kind of research and his own that deserves government support in Canada, whose federal government has pledged $1.1 billion in funding for COVID-19 research said the U of L scientist.
“Our work could have a huge influence — there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70 to 80 per cent,” he said.
SEOUL – Professional sport returned to South Korea on Tuesday as coronavirus restrictions ease in the country, with the first pitch thrown in a baseball preseason derby in front of empty stands.
The Seoul-based Doosan Bears and LG Twins are Korea’s biggest rivals in the country’s most popular spectator sport and their shared stadium in the capital’s Jamsil area would usually be packed.
But with fans barred, the stands were empty as the Twins’ Cha Woo-chan threw the first pitch.
Even the cheerleaders — an essential element of firing up the atmosphere at what would normally be a feverish encounter — were also absent.
The stadium was silent except for the continuous clicking of camera shutters from around 50 members of the media, and occasional shouts from the dugouts.
Reporters were not allowed to approach the players.
“Although it is being held behind closed doors, I think it’s good that we can hold these games for the fans who are watching from their homes,” said LG Twins media officer Kim Kwang-hwan.
“We hope that the coronavirus outbreak will be contained soon so many fans can come and enjoy our game just like previous years.”
The Jamsil derby was among the first of 20 preseason games, and the Korea Baseball Organization said Tuesday the regular season would start behind closed doors on May 5.
Strict health guidelines were being enforced.
Players must have their temperature checked twice before the games, with facemasks strongly recommended in all parts of the stadium, except for the field and the dugout during the game, the KBO said.
Players have been asked not to shake hands or exchange high-fives, while spitting is prohibited.
The Doosan Bears were last year’s KBO champions but the LG Twins ran out 5-2 winners in a one-sided encounter.
Even so, more than 700,000 fans tuned in to watch a livestream of the match on Naver, the country’s largest online portal.
The president, who has championed unproven coronavirus treatments, embraced the dangerous practice as a potential cure.
Trump’s own word:
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors with — but it sounds interesting to me.”
President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Americans should inject themselves with household disinfectants as a coronavirus remedy provoked an apparently universal rebuke Friday — including from congressional lawmakers, the medical community and the makers of the cleaning products themselves.