Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Snake bites: 5 million victims per year

According to the latest statistics from the World Health organization, around five million people are bitten by snakes every year, causing millions of envenomations, hundreds of thousands of amputations and deaths. The WHO issues some tips on what to do if bitten and how to avoid a bite.

Only around 600 of the 3,400 species of snake are venomous. From the Proto-Indo-European word for "To creep, To crawl" sneg-o; from the Greek "erpo", meaning "I crawl" we have the creepy-crawlie "snake" or "serpent" of today, the habitual resident of mythological stories since writing began.

The Egyptian's Amduat, a snake, was the state of all existence from which their Gods originated; in fact, the snake appears in mythology across the globe, from North American annual snake dances, representing fertility to African and Australian stories about the Rainbow Snake (Mother Earth) which created rivers and seas, from the Indian myths about the snake Ahi or Vritra creating all beings, to the Chinese snake-woman Nuwa, who gave birth to the human race. The common link is a creature representing creation, a life-giver.

However today the snake enters the news as a taker of life. The WHO has issued a document on animal bites (Animal Bites: A Major health problem) in which it reveals shocking statistics about the snake: around five million bites a year, 2.4 million envenomations (poisonous bites), between c. 95,000 to 120,000 deaths, 400,000 amputations or other serious health factors.

More prevalent in Africa and South-East Asia, snake bites occur precisely in the areas where access to healthcare is more difficult, namely remote rural areas, where agricultural workers or their families are the highest risk group, using non-mechanical farming tools and often walking barefoot.

A mistake people make, according to the WHO, is to use a tourniquet or to cut the bite. The Organization suggests instead immobilizing the affected part of the body and sterilizing the wound, getting the patient to a medical facility as soon as possible, and here, the facility should have stocks of antivenom from the species of snake endemic in the area.

Prevention stems around wearing protective clothing and removing piles of wood or grass where snakes reside.


Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey