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VIRUS INFECTION IN MY SNAKE COLLECTION
John Bakker

In October 1988 I bought a number of young snakes from a breeder at a snake show. Those were the only snakes I bought that day, other than that I inspected snakes for several people who wanted to buy them. I also sexed a few snakes by means of probing. After I got home I housed the young snakes separately in small boxes. All went well the first few months. The snakes ate well and grew rapidly, but early February 1989 I found a snake (Elaphe Helena) dead that I have had for a number of years.
In a period of about twelve hours this snake lost a lot of weight en was severely dehydrated. In the next two days four more snakes died. According to the autopsy report all the snakes died of pneumonia (a lot of mucus in the lungs). All the snakes were treated as a precautionary measure, but after a few days I found six snakes dead and six more the day after that. All the snakes that died were good eaters, were healthy but all died within a twelve hour period. They all lost a lot of weight all were dehydrated. All the snakes showed a peculiar behavior before they died. They appeared to be very edgy and aggressive and moved very fast within their enclosures. I took a snake to an animal hospital in Utrecht where Marja Kik examined it and a PARAMIXOS virus was found in the snakes brain. This virus is similar to the virus found in pigeons and chickens. I was advised to keep all my snakes in separate enclosures and to disinfect all materials, used for treatment, and myself with FORMALINE 4% after every visit to my snake room. Now all I could do was wait. According to the hospital there was no known treatment or medicine. Professor Zwart was in the U.S.A at this time attending a congress about this virus, so I could not consult with him about a possible treatment. In the next two weeks a large number of snakes died so I decided to consult Walter Getreuer of SERPO-ZOO in Delft. I then decided to inject the remainder of my snakes with COLOMBOVAC, 0.2 cc for each snake despite its size and weight. This medicine has been used by my father in the pigeon sport as a preventive treatment for young pigeons for many years. The price of one injection at that time was about HFL 1,35. After a week all my snakes looked and behaved normal and not a single snake died. In total I had lost 40 snakes to this virus. By September 1989 all my snakes were in perfect condition. To this day I still dont know who was responsible for bringing infected snakes to the show. I later heard that a few other snake keepers were hit by this virus. Snakes most perceptive to this virus are Lampropeltis, Boa, Python, Vipera, Crotalus and Asian Elaphe species. This virus hardly ever infects North American Elaphe species. I have no scientific proof that my treatment cured the snakes, but you dont have much choice when all your snakes are dying on you. Youll try anything to save your snakes and in my case it seemed to have worked. In the years after this period I have been approached by a number of snake keepers with the same problem (also through SERPO-ZOO). I advised them all to treat their snakes with COLOMBOVAC and I have had nothing but positive response. Even now in 2001 I have been asked to advise on a number of cases. Because new cases keep popping up in the literature (especially in the USA) about this virus in rattlesnake species, keeping this treatment in mind may be a good thing.

John Bakker