Tiger snake bite victims are being given up to four times the amount of antivenom necessary and a commonly used snake venom detection kit is unreliable, according to a study published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The study, which reviewed tiger snake bite cases from October 2004 to June 2011, found doctors administered the required dose of one vial of antivenom in only 11 of the 53 cases in which antivenom was given.
In some instances up to four vials were used.
Paper author University of WA professor of emergency medicine Simon Brown said giving too much antivenom consumed limited supplies of the treatment and there had been instances where antivenom access was restricted and smaller hospitals and nursing posts could not get adequate supplies.
Giving bigger doses also increased the risk of allergic reaction and delayed serum sickness, which can cause aches, pain and fevers.
Of the 56 cases of bites reviewed by the study, 10 were in WA.
The research also found a common kit used to determine the type of antivenom required was unreliable, with the test returning an incorrect result in five out of 44 cases in which it was used.
In each of the five cases the test gave an incorrect positive result for brown snake rather than tiger snake venom. Doctors relying on the test could administer the wrong antivenom, Professor Brown said.