Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Venomous Snake Count Rises Dramatically

By Corey Binns Special to LiveScience posted: 27 March 2007 11:07 am ET

A newly identified deadly snake in India is one of several now challenging the lon

Twelve hours after being bitten by the hump-nosed pit viper, a patient's blood becomes incapable of coagulating. The patient bleeds and develops renal failure. There is no antivenom for the viper.

The hump-nosed pit viper is often mistaken for a saw-scaled viper, one of many new details in the March issue of the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

There are more than 250 snake species in India and more than 50 of those are venomous. Estimates for the number of venomous snake species in the United States range from 20 to 29, with all falling into four groups—rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes. (Technically, snakes are venomous, not poisonous, as they inject their toxin. Poison must be inhaled or injected.)

Snakebites cause an estimated 50,000 fatalities annually in India, said Ian Simpson, a member of the WHO Snakebite Treatment Group, but just a dozen or fewer per year in the United States.

The Big Four

The hump-nosed pit viper isn't one of the "Big Four," a list of the region's most deadly snakes that consists of the Indian cobra, common krait, Russell's viper and saw-scaled viper, which now is known to closely resemble the hump-nosed pit viper. The difficulty in distinguishing the two snakes has likely led to many deaths due to confusion over how to treat the bites.

"In the last century the 'Big Four' provided an easy means to alerting people to some of the most significant snakes," said Simpson, also with the Tamil Nadu Government Snakebite Task Force in India. "Now it is outdated and proving confusing to doctors."

"It also curtails research into how many medically significant species there are," he said. "Some people just refuse to accept that there are more than four and cling to outdated ideas that are decades out of date."

By constantly referring to the Big Four, Simpson said, doctors are misled about what antivenom treatment is best for their patients. Meanwhile, antivenom manufacturers have yet to produce new concoctions to protect against snakebites other than the Big Four.

Better training

Improving doctor training is a key factor for better treatment of snakebites, Simpson said.

Much of Indian medical education is taught with Western textbooks that have snakebite chapters only relevant to American species. This leads to unnecessary antivenom use and much confusion.

In addition, doctors in rural clinics uneducated in treating snakebites refer patients to better-equipped hospitals that often require the patients to travel for hours, often in a state of agony and/or shock, without antivenom.

"We have developed protocols and support material to enable primary care doctors to treat snakebite with confidence," Simpson told LiveScience. "These are being implemented in a number of states in India."
g-held concept that there are only four dangerous snakes in the country, sometimes known as the land of snakes.

The hump-nosed pit viper is one among at least 13 snakes now counted as having medical significance in India in a recent report released by members of the World Health Organization's Snakebite Task Force.

The hump-nosed pit viper, Hypnale hypnale, a newly identified poisonous snake in India. Credit: Ian D. Simpson, WHO Snakebite Treatment Group and Tamil Nadu Government Snakebite Taskforce





At 12:15 AM, Blogger srivathsa.bhargava said...

good one vijay , one of the reasons for big 4 data , is the encounters with humans , considering this probably should we include Hump-nosed in the list which will add it to more confusion , if the encounter to humans is less . The reason Im mentioning this is the fear in people will increase and they will start killing the animal with out a second thought .

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Suniti said...

Food for thought...True, apart from the 'Big Four', there are any number of potentially venomous species in India- Bamboo Pit Viper, Malabar Pit Viper, Coral Snakes. But the fact is that these are discrete forest species and most unlikely to be encountered in densely inhabited areas. Hence, the question of their being medically significant or otherwise does not arise.(Compare the statistics of Russell's Viper bites to those of the Hump-nosed Pit Viper.)
Also, going by personal experience, doctors in this country are quite competent in treating snakebites and i think it is a bit unfair to make a generalisation in this regard.
Rather than adding to the hysteria and misinformation surrounding snakes in India, it might be better for the WHO to create a better understanding about the common venomous species (i.e. the 'Big Four') and the dynamics of snakebites.

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Reyhan said...

I read both comments on venomous snakes and I agree with both. First of all, there is a tendency to kill all snakes regardless of whether they are venomous or not. This is what happens in the North in particular where even the harmless keelback has been killed because it is a snake!
Doctors in India are very capable and are au fait with treatment for snakebite. However, I agree that in the rural or village environment, the patients are referred to bigger hospitals for the simple reason that antivenim is not available in the local clinic. It is unfair to condemn the rural medical personnel.The Government and WHO should make this mandatory just as they have made certain vaccines in the Country.
There is also a great need to educate people on the treatment of snakebite. This is a point which the WHO might consider.
And what is more important is that the people are educated about snakes.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger muniya said...

can u tell me the local name of hump-nosed pit viper?

At 5:31 AM, Blogger Naseer said...

Hi Vijay thanks for the info and news.I've seen the similiar news about the toxicity of H. hypnale in the website of little flower hospital, angamaly,trichur, kerala ( They also reported that the bite from the Hypnale is fatal for human beings. May be true, I was bitten by this species not once 4 times that too in the dense forests inside peechi_vazhani WLS, trichur, kerala.The easy access to outside to get some treatment means lot of walking down through the steep slopes. twice we did that and went to the hospital for treatment but nothing happened. This may be due to insufficient quantity of venon @ the time of strike or even that may be an unsuccesful strike/bite (no venom injected).

Anyway the current finding throws more light into the species. Ofcourse local reaction and other paraphernalia can be seen after the bite. Recently the expert doctors who treat these bites requested self to give them a class with an identification session about these and other snakes. This is a well known fact that most of the medical professionals are NOT experts ore even fail to identify the snake which is brought to them after a snake bite (most probably smashed to the extreme)nor the toxicology class other than showing them the commonest ones images they are not seeing the actual size in varying colors or other differences. These create lots of misjudgment and which leads to foolish treatment and a person with a snake bite but without sufficient fatal quantity, gets doses of antivenin injected into their body which results in death and other allergic reactions which can also lead to death...

Another interesting thing is the nature or habit of the hump nosed pit viper ( u remeber the one seen @ shendurny during recent Butterflyindia meet)...I was just inches away from the snake and we were all photographing a lizard when someone told me NOT to move and I looked back and saw the snake very close and still not in a mood to strike. The HNPV is a very quite and timid snake and bites result from serious disturbance to the animal ( i caught the snake unknowingly all the time when i was bitten). It avoids biting and slips away or stay cool and unnoticed in the forests. But only when there's maximum disturbance it tries to bite. More studies are needed to findout the fatality of this species.

But for a common man even a bite from a rat snake is enough to trigger the actions seen only during venomous snake bite. My first bite happened to be from a rat snake when I was a child and just started to learn about snakes. I've read a lot of about poison, venom and different snakes but not to the extend to understand each other better. The symptoms were very conspicuous to that of a poisonous snake bite (just b/c of FEAR. Can't tell my parents b/c surely I get punishment and 'm DEADLY afraid of HOSPITALS!!!!@#$ But nothing happened other than a good sleep @ the banana plantations were I was trying to catch this aggressive rat snake and resulted in severe bites on the arm.

The first snake I caught, still remembers was a deadly venomous Krait (was not knwoing about the identity of the snake at that time) and kept it (after wrapping in cloth) below the study table for how long dn't remember. nothing happened. (Kraits are another decent species of venomous snake which bites @ extreme moments of disturbance)and they've the most potent venom than any other snake in India.

'm not saying that hump nosed pit vipers are NOT dangerous but more research is definitely needed to assess the toxicity of this species

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Naseer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Naseer said...

And ofcourse the medical professionals may be trained well to identify the venomous and also the non-venomous species which looks similiar to them. I don't think the VENOMOUS SNAKE COUNT is on the rise but may be the bites from snakes due to habitat destruction and other reasons, the encounter with this beautiful species may be on the rise.

Note: while trying to edit the previous one this was unknowingly deleted


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