An estimated 5 million people are bitten by snakes every year; half are envenomed

Most are impoverished agricultural workers and children in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia

A least 100,000 people die every year from snakebites—and the number is likely far higher

Compounding the problem, three times that many suffer from permanent disability or require amputation.

Prevention of snake bites and their serious health consequences

Prevention of snake bites involves informing communities about snake bite risks and prevention techniques, such as to:

avoid tall grassy areas;

wear protective shoes/boots;

keep storage areas clear of rodents;

remove rubbish, woodpiles and low brush from around the home;

store food in rodent-proof containers, raise beds

above floor level and tuck mosquito nets securely under sleeping mats within the home.

To prevent or limit the serious health consequences of snake bites, health-care providers should be educated on snake-bite

management, including the proper use and administration of antivenom. Public health authorities and policy-makers should

ensure appropriate supplies of safe and effective antivenoms to communities, countries and regions where they are most needed,

and prioritize research initiatives that will further determine the burden of these injuries.

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Scope of the problem

Worldwide, up to five million people are bitten by snakes every year. Of these, poisonous (envenoming) snakes cause considerable

morbidity and mortality. There are an estimated 2.4 million envenomations (poisonings from snake bites) and 94 000–125 000

deaths annually, with an additional 400 000 amputations and other severe health consequences, such as infection, tetanus,

scarring, contractures, and psychological sequelae. Poor access to health care and scarcity of antivenom increases the severity of

the injuries and their outcomes.

Who is most at risk?

The majority of snake bites occur in Africa and South-East Asia. Snake bites are most common among people living in rural,

resource-poor settings, who subsist on low-cost, non-mechanical farming and other field occupations. Agricultural workers,

women and children are the groups most frequently bitten by snakes. Adding to the burden of these injuries is their

socioeconomic impact on families and communities. Adult victims are often the wage earners or care providers of the family unit;

and child victims can suffer lifelong disability intensifying demands on families and communities

Treatment

Approximately 600 species of snake are venomous and approximately 50-70% of bites by these cause envenomation. At the time

of a bite, the cornerstone of care is complete immobilization of the affected body part and prompt transfer to a medical facility.

Tourniquets and cutting wounds can worsen the effects of the venom and should not be used as first aid.

Frequently, victims of snake bites will require treatment with antivenom. It is important that the antivenom is appropriate for

snakes endemic to the region. Additional measures include wound cleansing to decrease infection risk, supportive therapy such as

airway support, and administration of tetanus vaccine upon discharge if the person has been inadequately vaccinated against

tetanus.