In 2018, a coalition of organizations working on global health and tropical medicine around the world, including Health Action International, launched the first-ever International Snakebite Awareness Day— September 19— to raise awareness of the huge, yet mostly unrecognized, global impact of snakebite. The launch of International Snakebite Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of the huge, yet mostly unrecognized, global impact of snakebite. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 81,000 and 138,000 people around the world die each year from snakebite and up to 400,000 are left permanently disabled or disfigured, as a result of being bitten by venomous snakes. Snakebites kill at least 40 times more people each year than land mines and leave at least 60 times more people with severe and permanent disabilities. In the United States, an average of 7,500 people are bitten each year.
In 2017, the World Health Organization added snakebite envenoming to its list of highest priority Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and in May this year the 71st World Health Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the governments of the world and the WHO to tackle the problem. In some countries such as Central African Republic, it takes a monumental effort to get appropriate medical care to the communities who need it the most. Whether it’s because of cost, distance, or lack of trust in western medicine, rural communities in the global majority simply do not currently receive the proper medical care after a snakebite. It is estimated that only 2% of people bitten by venomous snakes in sub-Saharan Africa have access to quality antivenom treatment.To make matters even worse, it will take years to implement the necessary steps that will bring medical care to these communities, who desperately need it today.
In the United States, snake bite victims are much luckier than in other countries because we have access to efficient medical care. Medicines known as antivenoms are the only effective treatment for snakebite. Quality anti venoms can prevent or reverse most of the effects caused by snake venom, saving lives. Until the day comes when all snakebite issues around the world have been solved, prevention is the first step in stopping this snakebite crisis. Being aware is a good thing. For example, the venom from a cottonmouth or copperhead rarely kills, although during the time spent recovering from the bite you might wish you were dead! The pain can be unbearable. Another particularly venomous species is the timber rattlesnake.
Sometimes hikers are not sure that they have been bitten. A snake fang puncture might not go all the way through your shoe or pants even if you are struck. You might feel "something" and perhaps even glimpse "something" moving away through the weeds. You may not hear a rattle. But a pair of puncture marks at the wound is definitely a sign of a venomous snake bite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of a bite can include redness or swelling, severe pain, nausea and vomiting, labored breathing, disturbed vision, increased salivation and sweating, and numbness or tingling in the face or limbs. The CDC says to seek medical attention immediately, to try to remember the snake's color and shape IF you see it, and to keep still and calm to slow the spread of any venom. While waiting on medical help, lie or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart, wash the bite with soap and water and cover it with a clean, dry dressing. It is not recommended to take steps such as applying a tourniquet or attempting to suck out the venom, according to the CDC.
Prevention is always the safest and easiest route to avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake, so be proactive and wear snake gaiters whenever you are working or just having fun in snake country!
A small price to pay for peace of mind.