SNAKE BITES AMONG TOP KILLERS
Snakebite venom has been placed on the list of neglected tropical diseases that should be given priority. Being in the World Health Organisation’s category A means that snakebites will now get more support, including funding, to assist those afflicted by the potentially fatal bites. Intensive care specialist at Princess Marina Hospital, Dr Alexei Milan, welcomed the move, saying that snakebite victims will now get more attention and that there will now be more resources to fight snakebites, which kill up to 32,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa every year. It is estimated that 2.7million bites happen annually, a fifth of these in Sub- Saharan Africa. Apart from this, a quarter of the world’s 400,000 bite-related fatalities occur in the region. These figures are likely conservative as a few snakebite victims make it to statistic-reporting hospitals. In fact, figures by an NGO – Health Action International (HAI) show that 70% of the cases go unreported. Snakebites can cause paralysis that may prevent breathing; bleeding disorders that can lead to a fatal hemorrhage; irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and which may result in limb amputation for those who survive the ordeal. Dr Milan said the biggest challenge is getting the correct anti-venom in a given facility and the risk of stock-outs. Children often suffer more severe effects than adults, due to their smaller body mass. According to local snake handler, Aaron Tsatsi, antivenoms work depending on the type of snake that bit you and where it is found. The science of producing antivenom, according to experts, involves extracting venom from snakes and injecting it into animals, such as horses. The injected animals’ immune systems produce antibodies that neutralise the venom. These can be extracted and stored for later use on human victims who are bitten by that particular snake species. Botswana has about 72 species of snakes and while about 80 percent of them are not venomous, a number of them are deadly including like the Puff adder, Black mamba, the poisonous Mozambique Spitting Cobra and Boomslang among others,. Tsatsi says health workers should be aware of these in order to offer effective treatment. “To be able to help, health workers need to know what snake bit a person depending on the symptoms that they show. “We are not telling them to go into forests and start searching for snakes,” he says,” but they need to know that for some bites you do not need any treatment because it was a dry bite or they are just not poisonous”. Tsatsi advises people to try as much as possible to avoid bites first by changing their attitude of attacking and killing snakes when they spot them. He explains that most of the snakes, even the most poisonous, are peaceful and will not strike unless provoked. He recommends that people move away once they spot a snake. If it spits venom in one’s eyes, he adds, they should be rinsed immediately with water. He says once bitten, all tight items on one’s body should be removed and the wounded area left alone. Then, he adds, the patient should also be made to lie on the ground with the side that has not been bitten to limit movement of the affected area. He warns against lying on the back or use of unsaf traditional treatments. To protect yourself against bites ensure that all holes in your house are closed, cut grass around the house and watchyour steps when in the bush.