One and a half million people per year are poisoned by snake venom in Sub-Saharan Africa. An IRD researcher recently analysed around 100 surveys and medical reports published over the past 40 years. No large-scale study of the situation had hitherto been conducted and public health authorities had underestimated the size of the problem.
This means that currently only 10% of victims are treated, owing to a shortage of antivenoms* and lack of awareness among health care practitioners. Yet the clinical complications can be very serious, even fatal. A bite from a cobra or mamba can bring on death by asphyxia — due to respiratory paralysis — within 6 hours of the incident. Venom injected by the ocellated carpet viper, common in the African savannah, can cause hemorrhages leading to the victim’s death in a few days.
This new study provides authorities with more detailed and reliable figures which should enable them to readjust their health-care services in better tune with needs.
For snakes the best form of defence is attack. Some show complete ruthlessness when they sense they are under threat. They all have their methods. The Gaboon viper, for example, injects its venom very deep into the muscles with its 5 cm long fangs. The spitting cobra blinds its victims with its venom. And although only one out of two snake bites is venomous, these reptiles are still a real danger for humans. The number of incidents is considerable, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where they represent a sizeable public health hazard, though neglected by the health authorities.