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Bacteriology of Naja atra Snakebite Wound and Its Implications for Antibiotic Therapy

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  • Division of Clinical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan; Division of Clinical Toxicology and Occupational Medicine, Department of Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan; Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan; School of Medicine, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan; Division of Infection, Department of Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan; Division of Toxicology, Trauma and Emergency Center, China Medical University Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan; Graduate Institute of Clinical Medical Science, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan; Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan; Department of Emergency Medicine, Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital, Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Institute of Public Health, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan

A total of 112 cases of Naja atra envenomation were examined at two referring hospitals: Taichung Veterans General Hospital in central Taiwan and Taipei Veterans General Hospital (VGH-TP) in northern Taiwan. Overall, 77% (86/112) of cases developed clinically suspected wound infections and 54% (61/112) required surgery secondary to tissue necrosis, finger or toe gangrene, and/or necrotizing fasciitis. Morganella morganii was the most abundant gram-negative bacterial strain isolated from bite wounds, followed by Proteus spp., Aeromonas hydrophila, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Providencia spp. in descending order; Enterococcus spp. were the most common gram-positive bacteria and Bacteroides spp. were the only anaerobic bacteria. A few episodes of bacteremia were caused by Bacteroides and Shewanella spp. There were no significant variations in the distribution of bacterial species between these two hospitals except for a higher incidence of M. morganii, Enterococcus spp., and polymicrobial infection observed at VGH-TP, which may have been related to variations in the fecal flora of prey and oral flora of individual snakes in different geographic areas in Taiwan. According to the susceptibility test involving various pathogens, first-line drug options for the management of N. atra snakebite wound infections may include monotherapy with ureidopenicillin or combination therapy with aminopenicillin and a third-generation cephalosporin or fluoroquinolone. A prospective evaluation of empiric antibiotic therapy for the management of N. atra snakebite should be considered.

Introduction

Six major venomous snake species are distributed throughout Taiwan, including Trimeresurus stejnegeri, Protobothrops mucrosquamatus, Deinagkistrodon acutus, and Daboia siamensis in the Viperidae family and Naja atra and Bungarus multicinctus in the Elapidae family. Naja atra, the only cobra species, is also distributed throughout southeastern Asia, including Vietnam, Laos, and southern China.1 In Taiwan, N. atra infrequently bites humans and causes 6% (range: 0–36%) of all snakebite cases.2 However, once envenomated, the majority of patients develop wound infections, including cellulitis, tissues necrosis, finger or toe gangrene, and/or extensive necrotizing fasciitis; therefore, empirical antibiotic therapy is frequently advocated.3 In Taiwan, bacteriology studies of N. atra bite wounds remain scarce and fragmented.46 Although studies of the oral bacteriology of N. atra have been conducted in Hong Kong,7,8 little is known about snakebite wound bacteriology and the effects of geographic differences in the same species.911 To better understand the bacteriology of N. atra bite wounds, we retrospectively analyzed 112 cases from two referring medical centers: Taichung Veterans General Hospital (VGH-TC) in central Taiwan and Taipei Veterans General Hospital (VGH-TP) in northern Taiwan.

Materials and Methods

Study population.

This was a retrospective cohort study. The study protocol followed the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. All cases of N. atra envenomation were admitted to VGH-TC between April 2005 and July 2009 (4 years) and to VGH-TP between October 1995 and September 2009 (14 years). Cases were identified by searching the computerized databases at both VGH-TC and VGH-TP using the keywords “snake,” “cobra,” “N. atra,” and “N. n. atra” both in English and Chinese. Two authors independently reviewed the medical records of all subjects with possible cobra envenomations. A definite diagnosis was made by the identification of the culprit snake, which included the examination of the snake, identification of the snake by the patient through a picture, or laboratory testing of the venom by the treating physician.1214 Patients with typical manifestations, as determined through physical examination, serial wound inspection, a relevant history, and clinical improvement after receiving specific antivenom for N. atra were included in the “clinical case” group (Table 1).2,3,15 After a careful review of the medical records, patients with snakebites other than those of N. atra (e.g., patients with snakebites of the other five medically important snakes [T. stejnegeri, P. mucrosquamatus, D. acutus, D. siamensis, and B. multicinctus] and less toxic or nonvenomous snakes) and patients with equivocal manifestations and a negative identification of culprit snake were excluded.

Table 1

Bacteria isolated from Naja atra bite cases and diagnostic methods of its envenomation

 Diagnostic methods
VGH-TCVGH-TPOverallP valueDefinitive caseClinical caseOverallP value
Case numbersN = 78N = 34N = 112 79 (54/25)§33 (24/9)§1120.646*
First aid
 Topical herbs268  
 Rope binding404  
 Incision and suction213  
Wound infection523486 612586 
Any surgery362561 421961 
Any form of bacterial culture322759 411859 
Positive bacterial cultures292150 341650 
Aerobic gram-positive bacteria131124 16824 
Bacillus cereus10111011
Enterococcus spp.1011210.015138210.336
 Coagulase-negative Staphylococcus species2240.5843141
Staphylococcus aureus1120.5172021
Aerobic gram-negative bacteria272249 331649 
Acinetobacter baumannii10111011
Aeromonas hydrophila6170.6736170.672
Citrobacter freundii1120.5171120.504
Escherichia coli2350.1633250.63
Klebsiella pneumoniae0110.3040110.295
Morganella morganii1715320.0161715320.011
Proteus spp.4480.2426281
  Proteus mirabilis1230.2183030.554
  Proteus penneri1120.5172021
  Proteus vulgaris3250.6383250.63
Pseudomonas aeruginosa2460.0684261
Providencia spp.42613360.358
  Providencia alcalifaciens1120.5171120.504
  Providencia rettgeri31412240.58
Serratia spp.1230.2183030.554
  Serratia liquefaciens0110.3041011
  Serratia marcescens1120.5172021
Shewanella spp. (putrefaciens)3250.6384151
Yokenella regensburgei10111011
Anaerobic bacteria
Bacteroides spp.527 527 
  Bacteroides fragilis52715271
  Bacteroides uniformis0110.3041011
Fungus
Candida parapsilosis10111011
Polymicrobial (≥ 2 pathogens)141832< 0.0012111320.471

No significant variation in the diagnostic methods between the two hospitals.

Diagnosed by examining the snake, having the patients to identify snake through a picture, or laboratory testing of the venom.

Diagnosed by physical examination, serial wound inspection, a relevant history, and clinical improvement after receiving specific antivenom for N. atra bite.

The bracket number represents the cases in Taichung Veterans General Hospital/Taipei Veterans General Hospital, respectively.

Included any form of rope, rubber band, or towel/clothes bindings.

Definition of wound infection.

Besides purulence/abscess and organisms isolated from the fluid/tissue/blood, the appearance of certain symptoms or signs such as pain, erythema, local warmth, swelling, lymphangitis, delayed healing, malodor, crepitus in soft tissues, discolored or friable granulation tissue, or wound breakdown or dehiscence was also indicative of wound infections.1618 Since this was a retrospective study, we used stricter criteria for infected wound following snakebites, which are defined as the presence of two of the following three criteria: onset of new or increasing pain, localized erythema or swelling at the bite site, or purulence at the bite site. The presence of fever and one of the above criteria also satisfied the definition of wound infection.19 Fever is arbitrarily defined as a body temperature above 38°C as measured with a tympanic thermometer, a device commonly used in both hospitals. If no abnormalities were mentioned in the case notes, it was assumed that no complication was present.

Bacteriology and statistics.

An aerobic and/or anaerobic bacterial culture was performed when infection was suspected in a snakebite wound. A deep tissue or biopsy culture was performed during surgical debridement, and blood culture was performed during febrile episodes. The culture sampling technique has been described in the literature.20 Polymicrobial infection was defined as the growth of two or more microbes on the same infected or purulent wound.21 Bacterial identification was performed using traditional biochemical methods with the VITEK 2 system (BioMérieux, Inc., Durham, NC). Susceptibility to antimicrobial agents was determined by the disk diffusion method. Inhibition zone diameters were interpreted according to the zone diameter breakpoints recommended by the Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute. All positive cultures were subjected to antibiotic susceptibility test analysis to maximize the test precision. The distribution of bacterial species between VGH-TC and VGH-TP and different diagnostic methods were compared using χ2 or Fisher's exact test. All data were analyzed with Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, version 22.0 (2013 release; IBM Corp., Armonk, NY). A two-tailed P value < 0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results

Of the patients, 15 received first aid: topical herbs in eight, rope binding in four, and incision and suction in three. According to the two diagnostic methods, 79 patients were diagnosed as “definitive case” (positive snake identification), including 54 at VGH-TC and 25 at VGH-TP, and 33 as “clinical case” (typical manifestations), including 24 at VGH-TC and nine at VGH-TP (Table 1). No patients received antibiotics before reaching the study hospitals. Clinically suspected wound infection, including cellulitis, tissue necrosis, finger or toe gangrene, or necrotizing fasciitis, developed in 86 of 112 (77%) envenoming cases. Sixty-one (54%) patients eventually underwent various types of surgery, including local debridement, incision and drainage, fasciotomy or fasciectomy, finger or toe amputation, and skin grafting, which were all performed in the study hospitals. Bacterial cultures from any type of biological sample, including wound discharge, deep tissue or biopsy, or blood, were obtained from 59 of the 86 cases. Of 59 patients, 50 (85%) had positive bacterial cultures, and more than two organisms were isolated from 32 (32/50, 64%) patients. A total of 23 organisms were identified (Table 1). Gram-negative rod bacteria, such as members of the Enterobacteriaceae family, were more frequently identified than gram-positive cocci. The following pathogens were detected: Morganella morganii, 32 cases; Enterococcus spp., 21; Proteus spp., 8; Aeromonas hydrophila, 7; and anaerobic Bacteroides spp., 7. Bacteroides spp. were the only anaerobes implicated in these cases. Statistically, a higher incidence of Morganella, Enterococcus spp., and polymicrobial infection (≥ 2 pathogens) was observed at VGH-TP.

In this study, all 59 patients produced more than one set of bacterial cultures during hospitalization. Overall, 155 wound discharge, 23 deep tissue or biopsy, and 44 blood samples were obtained. Anaerobic culture was not always concomitantly performed with aerobic culture; therefore, only 47 and two anaerobic cultures were obtained from wound discharge and deep tissue or biopsy, respectively. The positive proportions of bacterial culture were 62.6% (97/155) in wound discharge, 78.3% (18/23) in deep tissue or biopsy, and 6.8% (3/44) in blood samples. Only members of the Bacteroides fragilis group and Shewanella species were isolated from blood samples. The results of antibiotic susceptibility tests of Enterococcus and Bacteroides spp. and the most frequently occurring gram-negative pathogens are listed in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.

Table 2

Antibiotic susceptibility test of Enterococcus and Bacteroides spp. isolated from Naja atra bite wounds

 AmpicillinClindamycinGentamicinChloramphenicolPenicillinSulfamethoxazole–trimethoprimVancomycinTeicoplaninErythromycinMetronidazole
Enterococcus spp.
 VGH-TC (N = 18)*17/1718/1818/1818/18
 VGH-TP (N = 15)13/153/129/1512/1514/1510/1215/1515/157/15 (I = 2)
Bacteroides spp.
 VGH-TC (N = 10)10/1012/1010/10
 VGH-TP (N = 7)6/7 (I = 1)7/76/7 (I = 1)

VGH-TC = Taichung Veterans General Hospital; VGH-TP = Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

The bracket number represents the total numbers of positive culture.

Table 3

Antibiotic susceptibility of the most common Gram-negative pathogens isolated from Naja atra bite wounds*

Susceptibility strainsAmpicillinAmpicillin–sulbactamPiperacillin–tazobactamCefazolinCefotaximeCeftazidimeCefmetazoleFlomoxefGentamicinAmikacinCiprofloxacinLevofloxacinImipenemSulfamethoxazole–trimethoprimChloramphenicol
VGH-TC
 Aerobic gram-negative bacteria
  Aeromonas hydrophila (12)0/110/511/110/1111/115/55/54/11 (I = 7)11/1111/1111/115/56/610/105/5
  Escherichia coli (2)0/21/12/21/22/21/11/12/22/22/21/21/1 1/21/1
  Morganella morganii (26)3/26 (I = 4)7/725/250/2526/267/77/725/26 (I = 1)26/2626/2626/267/711/1126/267/7
  Proteus spp. (6)1/63/36/60/66/63/33/36/66/66/66/63/31/16/63/3
  Pseudomonas aeruginosa (8)  8/8  8/8  7/87/8 (I = 1)6/8 (I = 2)6/8 (I = 1)8/8  
  Providencia spp. (11)4/10 (I = 5)0/511/110/11 (I = 1)11/115/55/511/1111/1111/1111/115/56/611/112/5
  Shewanella (putrefaciens) (3)1/13/33/30/11/13/31/11/13/33/33/33/32/23/31/1
VGH-TP
 Aerobic gram-negative bacteria
  A. hydrophila (1)0/1  0/11/11/1 0/11/11/1   1/11/1
  E. coli (3)1/20/11/11/22/22/21/12/22/20/11/11/11/12/22/2
  M. morganii (16)3/14 (I = 1)10/1013/133/1414/1414/1410/1014/1414/149/913/135/513/1314/1414/14
  Proteus spp. (6)0/64/44/4 6/66/64/46/66/65/54/43/34/46/62/6 (I = 1)
  P. aeruginosa (5)  5/5  5/5  5/54/45/52/25/50/41/4
  Providencia spp. (2)1/21/11/11/22/22/21/11/12/22/21/1 1/12/22/2
  Shewanella (putrefaciens) spp. (4)1/42/22/20/43/44/42/24/44/44/42/2 1/2 (I = 1)4/44/4
Overall
 Aerobic gram-negative bacteria
  A. hydrophila (13)0/120/511/110/1212/126/65/54/12 (I = 7)12/1212/1211/115/56/611/116/6
  E. coli (5)0/41/23/32/44/43/32/24/44/42/32/32/21/13/43/3
  M. morganii (42)6/40 (I = 5)17/1738/383/3940/4021/2117/1739/40 (I = 1)40/4035/3539/3912/1214/1440/4021/21
  Proteus spp. (12)1/127/710/100/612/129/97/712/1212/1211/1110/106/65/512/125/9 (I = 1)
  P. aeruginosa (13)  13/13  13/13  12/1311/12 (I = 1)11/13 (I = 2)8/10 (I = 1)13/130/41/4
  Providencia spp. (13)5/12 (I = 5)1/612/121/13 (I = 1)13/137/76/612/1213/1313/1312/125/57/713/134/7
  Shewanella (putrefaciens) spp. (7)2/55/55/50/54/57/73/35/57/77/75/53/33/4 (I = 1)7/75/5

VGH-TC = Taichung Veterans General Hospital; VGH-TP = Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

To maximize the precision of the antibiotic susceptibility test, all positive cultures were included in the analysis.

The bracket number represents the total numbers of positive culture.

Intermediate susceptibility.

Discussion

The oral flora of snakes comprises a wide range of aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms, particularly fecal gram-negative rods because their prey (e.g., rodents or reptiles) usually defecate while being ingested.10,22,23 The bacterial compositions vary among snake species and may be influenced by venom properties9,19,24 and the fecal flora of the prey in different geographic regions.23 Laboratory bacteriological investigations of aerobic isolates from the venom and oral cavities of the North American pit viper Crotalus atrox demonstrated a preponderance of enteric and coliform organisms, particularly Aerobacter, Proteus, and Pseudomonas, with Clostridium as the most common anaerobic genus.25 In the venom of Crotalus viridis helleri and Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus, Proteus spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and coagulase-negative Staphylococcus spp. are the most common aerobic species and Clostridium is the most common anaerobic species.23 In Thailand, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus spp. are the most common aerobic species and Clostridium is the most common anaerobic species in the venom or mouth of the Malayan pit viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma). In a recent study conducted by Shek and others in Hong Kong, M. morganii, A. hydrophila, Proteus spp., Enterococcus faecalis, coagulase-negative Staphylococcus and anaerobic Clostridium were the most commonly isolated pathogens in the oropharynx of N. atra.7

The mouth of N. atra harbors larger numbers of bacterial species associated with snakebite wound infections than crotaline or colubrid snake species.7,8 In our study, M. morganii was the most predominant bacteria isolated from bite wounds, followed by Enterococcus spp., Proteus spp., A. hydrophila, P. aeruginosa, and Providencia spp., in descending order. Our human case study is largely consistent with the experimental findings of Shek and others, with the exception of anaerobic pathogen species.7 Bacteroides spp. was the only anaerobe isolated from the N. atra bite wounds in our study. Notably, a previously healthy 31-year-old man developed Bacteroides bacteremia after a N. atra bite on his hand. This patient recovered after antibiotic therapy and serial wound debridement and grafting. Another previously healthy 35-year-old man developed Shewanella bacteremia after a N. atra bite on his finger. He also recovered after the administration of antibiotics, finger amputation, and grafting surgery. In both cases, polymicrobial wound infections were also present: M. morganii, Providenctia rettgeri, P. aeruginosa, Shewanella sp., and Enterococcus spp. in the first case and Enterococcus spp., Proteus mirabilis, Proteus penneri, Shewanella spp., and Bacteroides spp. in the second case. Although Bacteroides and Shewanella bacteremia are usually associated with an underlying immunocompromised status (e.g., malignancy), hepatobiliary disease, and high mortality rates,26,27 the pathogenic effects of these types of bacteremia in immunocompetent patients and in the context of polymicrobial infection remain poorly understood. Snakebite may be a benign cause of Bacteroides or Shewanella bacteremia with a favorable outcome.

In-hospital snakebite management comprises the administration of antivenom, antibiotics for wound infections, or surgery to ameliorate infectious complications. In Brazil, Jorge and others suggested chloramphenicol as the antibiotic of choice for the management of Bothrops envenomation because the most frequently isolated pathogens from these wounds includes M. morganii, P. rettgeri, Enterobacter spp., Escherichia coli, Enterococcus spp., and Bacteroides spp.28 In northern Thailand, Theakston and others recommended benzylpenicillin with gentamicin as a prophylactic antibiotic regimen after Malayan pit viper (C. rhodostoma) envenomation because Enterobacter spp., Pseudomonas spp., and occasionally, Staphylococcus and Clostridia have been cultured from the venom and mouth of this snake species.9 However, a positive bacterial culture obtained from the mouth or venom of a snake does not necessarily correspond to a high risk of snakebite wound infection. Hence, the use of prophylactic antibiotics during snakebite management remains controversial.22 For example, a low incidence of wound infection was documented in snakebites from certain crotaline species, despite the isolation of several pathogens from the snake venom.19,23,29 Furthermore, the antibacterial effect of crotaline snake venom was previously described,79,24 and prophylactic antibiotics have not been found to reduce the incidence of wound infection in prospective evaluations.30,31

In Taiwan, the crotaline snakes T. stejnegeri and P. mucrosquamatus cause more than 70% of all snakebite incidents2; however, these species rarely induce wound infections after envenomation. Chen and others previously investigated snakebites from T. stejnegeri and P. mucrosquamatus and found that 6% and 26% cases, respectively, developed clinically suspected wound infections, and 0% and 9% cases, respectively, underwent surgery, including dermatomy/fasciotomy, skin graft, and digit amputation, after envenomation.32 In our study, 77% (86/112) of the cases developed clinically suspected wound infections and 54% (61/112) required surgery secondary to tissue necrosis, finger or toe gangrene, and/or necrotizing fasciitis. Naja atra venom comprises cardiotoxin, neurotoxin, hemotoxin, and phospholipase A2 among others. Cardiotoxin and neurotoxin represent the major components and account for 55% and 10% of the dry weight of crude venom, respectively.3 Although neurotoxin is the most lethal fraction in small mammals, it causes only mild neurotoxicity in humans; instead, the major concern in humans is cardiotoxin, which works synergistically with phospholipase A2 to induce local tissue necrosis after snakebites, predispose the wound to bacterial infection from the indigenous oral flora of the snake, and necessitate limb amputation or cause mortality in rare circumstances.3,33

In our study, we identified “clinical cases” of N. atra bites by the typical presentations of N. atra envenomation. Naja atra bites induce distinct effects, including wound necrosis (63–100%), fever, necrotizing fasciitis, gastrointestinal effects, and systemic neurotoxicity, which are rarely or not found in crotaline (T. stejnegeri and P. mucrosquamatus) bites.3,32,34 Most N. atra bite cases can be accurately diagnosed and treated using the diagnostic algorithm established by the Taiwan Poison Control Center, which includes physical examination, serial wound inspection, a relevant history, and clinical improvement after receiving a specific antivenom.2,3,15 Only a few cases with equivocal manifestations necessitated laboratory testing of the venom to establish a definitive diagnosis.1214 Moreover, we did not find significant variations in the distribution of bacterial species between definitive and clinical cases, which might favor the misclassification of infected crotaline snakebite wounds into N. atra bites among clinical cases.7,8

The diagnosis of wound infection following snake envenomation remains problematic not only because the venom causes toxicological effects similar to those caused by pathogenic flora (e.g., local swelling, heat, tenderness, regional lymphadenopathy, fever, and increased white blood cell counts)25,35 but also because no validated physical criteria are available for the diagnosis of this particular type of wound infection.17,19 Nevertheless, we have tried our best to use stricter criteria in the diagnosis of wound infection (i.e., clinical symptoms/signs supporting the diagnosis of wound infection and organisms isolated from the wound discharge, deep tissue or biopsy, or blood). Although the incidence of wound infection might still have been overestimated in this study, we believed the overestimate was likely to be of limited magnitude given that a very high proportion of positive bacterial cultures was obtained in cases with clinically suspected infection and more than half of the patients with a diagnosis of wound infection underwent surgery because of infectious complications. Furthermore, a high incidence of wound necrosis (63–100%), which has been recognized as a factor significantly associated with certain types of wound infection,16 was frequently observed with N. atra envenomation in contrast to crotaline envenomation.3,32,34 The importance of wound infection following N. atra envenomation should not be overlooked. We suggested that snakebite wound infection should be considered a special wound infection entity. More objective measurements such as laboratory and/or validated physical criteria for snakebite wound infections should be established in the future.36

The judicious use of antibiotics based on local bacterial patterns should be considered to improve the management of N. atra bite wound infections. Chen and others inspected 21 snakebite cases with wound infections and isolated at least 17 bacterial species from these wounds, including 17 caused by N. atra, one by T. stejnegeri, one by P. mucrosquamatus, and two by unknown snake species.4 Morganella morganii, Enterococcus spp., and P. aeruginosa were the most common aerobic species and Bacteroides spp. were the most common anaerobe species isolated from snakebites. Huang and others analyzed 17 cases of snakebite with wound infections, including 16 caused by N. atra snakebite and one by T. stejnegeri, and isolated 13 bacterial species.5 Morganella morganii, Enterococcus spp., and A. hydrophila were the most common aerobic species and Bacteroides spp. were the only anaerobic species isolated in that study. Although those two studies did not specify the bacteria with respect to snake species, our findings suggest that these pathogens more likely arose from N. atra snakebite wounds. Accordingly, we do not recommend the routine use of antibiotics in the management of crotaline snakebites.7,8 In our study, no significant differences in bacterial distribution or antibiotic resistance were observed between the two hospitals, excepts for an increased incidence of M. morganii, Enterococcus spp., and polymicrobial infections among cases from VGH-TP, which may have been related to variations in the fecal flora of prey and oral flora of individual snakes in different geographic areas in Taiwan.37 As M. morganii is naturally resistant to benzylpenicillin, aminopenicillins, oxacillin, first- and second-generation cephalosporins, and sulfamethoxazole, and given the safety profile of chloramphenicol, monotherapy with ureidopenicillin or combination therapy with aminopenicillin and a third-generation cephalosporin or fluoroquinolone may be the initial drugs of choice for the management of N. atra snakebite wound infection.38 However, as increased antibiotic resistance of gram-negative bacteria to fluoroquinolone and of Enterococcus spp. to penicillins has been observed, we recommend the continuous surveillance of antibiotic resistance among these pathogens.39,40

Limitations

This study has several limitations. First, there is always a time delay in bacterial culture collection from snakebite wounds because of the natural course of N. atra envenoming.3 Patients may have received several forms of treatment (e.g., wound cleansing, application of topical medicines, surgical debridement, or antimicrobial therapy) in a prehospital setting or during transportation or hospitalization that may have altered the bacterial composition before bacterial culture collection; therefore, the management timing cannot always be addressed in detail.

Second, in our study, anaerobic cultures were not always concomitantly performed with aerobic cultures; therefore, the incidence and numbers of cases affected by anaerobic infection may have been underestimated.22,41

Third, both VGH-TC and VGH-TP are referral centers; therefore, the incidence of wound infection and the bacteriological pattern in this study may not be generalizable to all primary care facilities because of possible referral bias. Furthermore, this is a retrospective study, which suffers certain inherent limitations of the study design; hence, the results should be interpreted cautiously. Nevertheless, this is the first study to investigate a single snake species that most frequently causes snakebite wound infections in Taiwan, and the findings may have important clinical implications in the better management of N. atra bite.

Conclusion

A high incidence of clinically suspected wound infection was observed in cases of N. atra envenomation. No significant differences were observed in the distribution of bacterial species between the study hospitals, except for an increase in the incidence of M. morganii, Enterococcus spp., and polymicrobial infections at VGH-TP, which may have been related to variations in the fecal flora of prey and oral flora of individual snakes in different geographic areas in Taiwan. With the exception of anaerobic pathogens, our human case study findings support the experimental findings obtained in Hong Kong.7 On the basis of the bacteriological findings, we suggest that either monotherapy with ureidopenicillin or combination therapy with aminopenicillin and a third-generation cephalosporin or fluoroquinolone is the preferred drug of choice in the initial management of N. atra snakebite wound infections.

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Author Notes

* Address correspondence to Chen-Chang Yang, Division of Clinical Toxicology and Occupational Medicine, Department of Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, 201 Sec. 2, Shipai Road, Taipei 112, Taiwan. E-mail: ccyang@vghtpe.gov.tw

Authors' addresses: Yan-Chiao Mao, Division of Clinical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan, Division of Clinical Toxicology and Occupational Medicine, Department of Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan, Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan, and School of Medicine, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan, E-mail: doc1385e@gmail.com. Po-Yu Liu, Division of Infection, Department of Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan, E-mail: idfellow@gmail.com. Dong-Zong Hung, Division of Toxicology, Trauma and Emergency Center, China Medical University Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan, and Graduate Institute of Clinical Medical Science, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan, E-mail: dzhung0224@gmail.com. Wei-Cheng Lai, Division of Clinical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan, E-mail: sprite93@gmail.com. Shih-Ting Huang, Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung, Taiwan, E-mail: kitheroborn@hotmail.com. Yao-Min Hung, Department of Emergency Medicine, Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Institute of Public Health, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan, E-mail: ymhung1@gmail.com. Chen-Chang Yang, Division of Clinical Toxicology and Occupational Medicine, Department of Medicine, Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan, and Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Medicine, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan, E-mail: ccyang@vghtpe.gov.tw.

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