Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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A Global Partnership for Snake Bite

photos A and B by David Warrell; photo C by Mahmood Sasa

In Volume 3, Issue 6 (June 2006) issue of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Medicine, which is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, there was an article entitled “Confronting the Neglected Problem of Snake Bite Envenoming: The Need for a Global Partnership.” The authors, led by Jose Maria Gutierrez, pointed out that poisoning from snake bites is an international problem that requires more attention and standards of first aid and medical care, particularly in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.

The current situation is that there is not very reliable reporting of snake bites, but from what is known, it appears that the high death rates are related to scarcity of antivenoms, poor health services, and lack of swift access to health centers. This is particularly the case with children, who are common victims of snake bites.

The authors point out that the species causing the greatest numbers of bites and fatalities are Echis species (saw-scaled vipers) in northern Africa, Bothrops species (lance-headed vipers) in Central and South America, and Naja species (cobras) and Bungarus species (kraits) in Asia. The photos here are from the original article, and depict (A) saw-scaled viper from Nigeria; (B) cobra from Sri Lanka; and (c) terciopelo from Costa Rica.

At the current time, horse- or sheep-derived antivenom administered intravenously is the only specific treatment for snake bite poisoning. This is often effective at saving life and limb, but frequently at the cost of an allergic reaction.

Finally, the authors call for a global partnership in order to foster international collaboration that will lead to better epidemiological information about all aspects of snake bite, to promote the development of improved antivenoms, and to provide antivenoms in regions where they are not currently available.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.