Snake bite

Book an Appointment

Overview

Snakebite envenoming is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by toxins in the bite of a venomous snake. Envenoming can also be caused by having venom sprayed into the eyes by certain species of snakes that have the ability to spit venom as a defence measure.

Inadequate past efforts to control snakebite envenoming has produced fragmented, inaccurate epidemiological data. Many victims do not attend health centres or hospitals and instead rely on traditional treatments. However, available data show 4.5–5.4 million people get bitten by snakes annually. Of this, 1.8–2.7 million develop clinical illness and 81 000 to 138 000 die from complications.

High-risk groups include rural agricultural workers, herders, fishermen, hunters, working children, people living in poorly constructed houses and those with limited access to education and healthcare. Morbidity and mortality occur most frequently among young people and children suffer higher case fatality. Furthermore, women experience increased barriers to accessing medical care in some cultures and pregnant women are extremely vulnerable.

An ongoing crisis restricting access to safe, effective antivenom treatment in many regions, and particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is one factor that contributes to the predisposition for seeking help through traditional medicine. 

Symptoms

If you’re bitten by a snake, your symptoms will differ depending on which type of bite it is. If you suffer a dry snake bite, you’ll likely just have swelling and redness around the area of the bite. But if you’re bitten by a venomous snake, you’ll have more widespread symptoms, which commonly include:

Bite marks on your skin. These can be puncture wounds or smaller, less recognizable marks.

Sharp, throbbing, burning pain around the bite that you may not feel for a little while after the bite. You may also feel pain all the way up whichever limb was affected, such as in the groin for a bite on the leg or the armpit for a bite on the arm. But not everyone feels pain. For example, a bite from a coral snake can be almost painless at first, but still deadly.

Redness, swelling and tissue damage, or complete destruction, in the area of the bite.

Abnormal blood clotting and bleeding. Severe bleeding can lead to a hemorrhage or kidney failure.

Low blood pressure, a faster heart rate and a weaker pulse.

Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, headaches, dizziness and blurred vision.

Difficulty breathing, or in serious cases, complete loss of breath.

Increased production of saliva and sweat.

Weakness in your muscles and numbness in the face or limbs.

If you have an allergic reaction to a snake bite, you could suffer from anaphylactic shock. Many of the symptoms are the same or very similar to the ones listed above, but more severe. But there are a few additional symptoms, including:

Difficulty speaking due to extreme tightness in the throat and a swollen tongue.

Young children may become very pale.

Constant cough and/or wheezing.

Causes

Most snake bites can cause pain and swelling around the bite. Those that are venomous may also cause fever, a headache, convulsions, and numbness. However, these symptoms can also occur due to intense fear following the bite. Bites can cause an allergic reaction in some people, which may include anaphylaxis.

Risk factors

Working outside with one's hands (farming, forestry, construction)

Calendar Schedule

Have a medical question?

We are available to help you with all your questions and concerns.

Complications

Bleeding, kidney failure, severe allergic reaction, tissue death around the bite, breathing problems, amputation, envenomation

Prevention

Avoid places where snakes may live. ...

When moving through tall grass or weeds, poke at the ground in front of you with a long stick to scare away snakes.

Watch where you step and where you sit when outdoors.

Wear loose, long pants and high, thick leather or rubber boots.