Tourniquet Application after Cobra Bite: Delay in the Onset of Neurotoxicity and the Dangers of Sudden Release

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  • 1 U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2, APO San Francisco 96528
  • * The World Health Organization Collaborative Centre for the Control of Antivenoms, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, England

The effects of tourniquet application were prospectively studied in 36 hospitalized patients who developed neurotoxic symptoms after bites by the Philippine cobra (Naja naja philippinensis). Tourniquets had been applied in 94% of cases and delayed the onset of symptoms. Four patients were asymptomatic prior to the release of their tourniquet and in 11 patients symptoms worsened precipitously. Most importantly, 4 patients developed complete respiratory paralysis requiring artificial ventilation on its removal. Medical personnel seeing patients after a possible cobra bite should remove any tourniquet very gradually with both specific therapy and ventilatory support at hand. We recommend tourniquet application in the Philippines only after the bite of a definitely identified cobra and when removal can take place under controlled hospital conditions.