The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday released details of its strategy to reduce deaths and cases of disability due to snakebite envenoming by 50 per cent before 2030.
The strategy document, Snakebite envenoming — A strategy for prevention and control, will be launched at a meeting of the orgnisation to be hosted by Nigeria and Costa Rica, on May 23, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.
According to the global health body, “snakebite envenoming is a potentially life-threatening disease that typically results from the injection of a mixture of different toxins (“venom”) following the bite of a venomous snake. Envenoming can also be caused by having venom sprayed into the eyes by certain species of snakes that have the ability to spit venom as a defence measure.”
Key statistics about snakebites
Although there are currently more than 3000 species of snakes in the world, approximately 250 of these are listed by WHO as being of medical importance because of the harm their venoms can do. These venomous snakes can be found in 160 countries worldwide
Below are a few more stats about snakebites and snakebite envenoming:
- Snakebite envenoming is a serious public health problem in rural areas of tropical and sub-tropical countries in Africa, the Middle-East, Asia, Oceania and Latin America.
- Rural cropping and livestock workers, hunters, and their children are among the most affected.
- Children often suffer more severe effects than adults because of their smaller body mass.
- Lack of footwear contributes significantly to the risk of snakebite for both adults and children.
- About 5 million snakebites occur each year, resulting in up to 2.7 million envenomings
- Between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths occur each year
- Snakebite envenoming causes as many as 400,000 amputations and other permanent disabilities.
- Many snakebites go unreported, often because victims seek treatment from non-medical sources or do not have access to health care.
Treatment of Snakebites
Snake antivenoms are effective treatments to prevent or reverse most of the harmful effects of snakebite envenoming. Unfortunately many people either lack access to antivenom, or cannot afford to pay for them. Difficulties in ensuring proper regulation and testing of antivenoms also affect the availability of good quality, effective products.
People who suspect they have been bitten by a venomous snake should be transported to a health facility without delay, the WHO advises.
First aid for snakebites
- If you suspect a snake bite, move away from the area where the bite occurred immediately. If the snake is still attached use a stick or tool to make it let go. Sea snake victims need to be moved to dry land to avoid drowning.
- Remove anything tight from around the bitten part of the body (e.g.: rings, anklets, bracelets) as these can cause harm if swelling occurs.
- Reassure the victim. Many snake bites are caused by non-venomous snakes. And even after most venomous snake bites the risk of death is not immediate.
- Immobilize the person completely. Splint the limb to keep it still. Use a makeshift stretcher to carry the person to a place where transport is available to take them to a health facility.
- Never use a tight arterial tourniquet.
- The Australian Pressure Immobilization Bandage (PIB) Method is only recommended for bites by neurotoxic snakes that do not cause local swelling.
- Applying pressure at the bite site with a pressure pad may be suitable in some cases.
- Avoid traditional first aid methods, herbal medicines and other unproven or unsafe forms of first aid.
- Transport the person to a health facility as soon as possible
- Paracetamol may be given for local pain (which can be severe).
- Vomiting may occur, so place the person on their left side in the recovery position.
- Closely monitor airway and breathing and be ready to resuscitate if necessary.
- Many people die every year on the way to a health facility as a result of being transported lying flat on their backs and having their upper airway obstructed by vomit, or paralysis of muscles in the tongue. Keep them on their left side with mouth turned down so that the risk of this is reduced.
Advising medical and health personnel, the W.HO says: “Health facilities should treat all snakebite cases as emergencies and give priority to assessing these patients and instituting treatment without delay.
“Intravenous access should be achieved early, hydration state determined and corrected if needed, and vital signs must be closely monitored. The early administration of an adequate dose of effective antivenom to patients with signs of envenoming is crucial. If no antivenom is available, referral to a centre which has supplies should be planned and undertaken quickly. If this is not possible then symptomatic treatment including support of airway patency and breathing, maintenance of circulation and control of bleeding, and the treatment of local wounds should be prioritized as appropriate.
“Administered early, antivenoms are not just life-saving, but can also spare patients some of the suffering caused by necrotic and other toxins in snake venom, leading to faster recovery, less time in hospital and a more rapid transition back to a productive life in their communities.”
Source: World Health Organisation