The Jacobi Medical Center/Wildlife Conservation Society Snakebite Treatment Program is one of the unique clinical activities at Jacobi. Its remarkable history dates back to 1980 when John Behler, then the curator of the Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo, approached Warren Wetzel, Jacobi’s chief of trauma, to create an occupational safety plan for the reptile house staff. The idea was to create an emergency response system in the event that one of the zoo herpetologists was accidentally bitten by a venomous snake in the zoo’s extensive collection.
The program that was developed has continued to this day. Jacobi treats the rare professional exposed to a venomous bite, “innocent bystanders” including upstate farmers, hikers, summer campers as well as collectors who participate in an often illegal trade in highly dangerous venomous snakes from around the world. In the summer of 2011, we treated 8 snakebite victims, including 2 technical rock climbers from New Paltz.
Since 1995 the snakebite treatment program has been based in the Jacobi Emergency Department under the leadership of MIchael Touger, M.D., associate director of the department. We worked collaboratively with the herpetologists at the Bronx Zoo as well as Jacobi’s departments of plastic surgery and trauma to provide emergency access to antivenom, critical care and wound care to snakebite victims who are brought to Jacobi from all over the northeastern U.S.