What to do after a snakebite? Dos, don’ts and everything you want to know

As per the WHO figures, a million people are bitten by snakes in India per year and fifty thousand out of them die. The main victims are the young farmers, the breadwinners of the cultivator family. Others who are at risk are the construction workers, trekkers and campers. In conversation with Dr Vijay Muralidhar Sonar who has been treating the victims of snakebite for the past fifteen years in the city of Ahmednagar. He is an MBBS and MD, anesthesia from BJ Medical College Pune, India. He has been practicing general and emergency medicine. He treats about 150 snakebite victims a year.

In India, how many types of snakes do we have?
We have 250 species of snakes in India, fifty from those are venomous and five are very dangerous for humans. Four of them are responsible for most of the killer bites – common cobra (called naga), saw scaled viper, common krait (manyar) and Russell’s viper. The concept of the Big Four is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Humpnosed pit viper, also called hypnale was considered as harmless to humans but is capable of causing uncontrolled bleeding and sudden kidney failure leading to death. The current anti-venom serum (AVS) does not give protection against the bite of this viper. Sea snakes are also poisonous to humans.

Which of those five dangerous ones is the most dangerous?
If you ask me it is the common krait, for its bite has hardly any local symptoms – no swelling, no bleeding and no pain. It is a very peculiar snake, in the villages it comes out in the dead of the night to explore for food (rats) and bites people who sleep on the floor. This can happen to people camping outdoors. The problem with Krait bite is that sometimes one cannot even ‘see’ the wound and in many cases people, especially the children are unaware that they are even bitten. The bite of krait is deceptive, while the local symptoms are minimum it has severe degree of venomation (injection of venom into human body). In most of the cases the victim gets severe stomach pain and vomiting and even if he/she is taken to a doctor, the victim is treated for the stomach pain. By morning the neurotoxin spreads in the body and the victim dies of respiratory failure. We always advise people to sleep on a cot, or while camping outdoors use mosquito nets to keep the reptiles away. Russell Viper is also very dangerous for it injects maximum venom in its victim and has less number of dry-bites.

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So the venom of a snake attacks the nerves?
Venom of a snake …continued »

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