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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Routine prophylactic antibiotic use in the management of snakebite

Dexter D Tagwireyi1, Douglas E Ball1* and Charles FB Nhachi2

Author Affiliations

1 Drug and Toxicology Information Service, Department of Pharmacy, University of Zimbabwe, Box A178, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

2 Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Medical School, University of Zimbabwe, Box A178, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe

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BMC Clinical Pharmacology 2001, 1:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6904-1-4

Published: 2 November 2001



Routine antibiotic prophylaxis following snakebite is not recommended but evidence suggests that it may be common practice in Zimbabwe. This study set out to determine and describe the extent of this practice at Parirenyatwa Hospital, a large teaching hospital in Zimbabwe


A retrospective case review (1996 to 1999 inclusive) of all cases of snakebite was undertaken at Parirenyatwa Hospital. Cases with a diagnosis of snakebite, presenting within 24 hours of the bite and with no complications or concurrent illness were defined as "routine prophylactic antibiotic use".


From 78 cases which satisfied the inclusion criteria, 69 (88.5%) received antibiotics. Ten different antibiotics from 6 different classes were used with penicillins the most commonly prescribed (benzylpenicillin in 29% of cases, alone or in combination). Over 40% of antibiotics were given parenterally although all patients were conscious on admission. The total cost of antibiotics used was estimated at US$522.98.


Routine prophylactic use of antibiotics in snakebite at Parirenyatwa Hospital is common practice. This may highlight the lack of a clearly defined policy leading to wasteful inappropriate antibiotic use which is costly and may promote bacterial antibiotic resistance. Further work is required to investigate the reasons for this practice and to design appropriate interventions to counter it.