- By Dwaipayan, 23 November 2020 | 5 MIN READ
India is most dramatically affected by snakebite and accounts for almost half the total number of annual deaths in the world. In an article named ‘Trends in snakebite mortality in India from 2000 to 2019 in a nationally representative mortality study’ investigated 2,833 snakebite deaths from 611,483 verbal autopsies from an earlier study and conducted a systematic literature review from 2000-2019 covering 87,590 snake bites.
The authors of the article projected that India had a staggering 1.2 million snakebite deaths from 2000 to 2019 averaging 58,000 per year with nearly half of the victims aged 30-69 and over a quarter being children under 15.
People residing in thickly populated low altitude agricultural areas in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and the newly included Telangana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, suffered 70% of deaths during 2001-2014, particularly during the monsoon.
Russell’s viper, common kraits and cobras are amongst the biting snake species in India, other unidentified species also links to threat.
The World Health Organization has set the target of lowering by half the number of snakebite deaths by 2030 in India.
Rural farmers and their families are the primary victims of snakebites. Educating people with simple techniques and procedures such as ‘snake-safe’ harvest practices using rubber boots and gloves, mosquito nets and rechargeable torches could decrease the risk of snakebites. Awareness and knowledge of venomous snake species as well as the human consequences of bites could be a part of the educating program.
An enhanced snake species database with habitat details, clear photographs and geographical distribution is now downloadable as an Android phone app from indiansnakes.org
Snakes in the city
There are also possibilities of snakebites in urban areas. Snake rescuers in Mumbai are working to mitigate the conflict between humans and reptiles. In a story covered in mint – Saket Taduri grasps a 4ft-long rat snake gently, his hands following its undulating contours, allowing it to move. The rescued snake has been bagged for an hour or two and is naturally frightened and as a last-ditch defence mechanism, it sprays a foul-smelling fluid all over its handler. The smell is enough to make you gag but Taduri doesn’t drop the snake or mishandle it in any way. Instead, he walks to a nearby thicket and releases it, watching to make sure it glides into the undergrowth.
This is just an hour after Taduri and his colleague Vaishali Chawhan tussled with a 7ft-long cobra to remove it from a construction site in Bhayander East. The snake flares its hood and strikes, defending itself and its territory against a crowd of concerned builders worrying about the site’s value—it is meant to be the playground for an upcoming school. The cornered snake aims at Taduri’s denim-clad legs, leaving a gleaming streak of venom behind. And yet, the young man carries on, trying to gently nudge the snake into a bag.
Bengaluru is another city where snake sightings are considerably higher Snake sightings in the city have increased with the recent change in the weather and drop in temperatures. People are reporting snakes in the backyards, vacant lands and sometimes in the autos and cars as well. The rise in the road development projects and construction works has disturbed the habitat of the snakes compelling them to come out in the open. Russel’s vipers, cobras and the rat snakes are common near the garbage dumps where rats are in plenty.
India has an estimated 2.8 million snakebite cases cumulatively, says the WHO. In India, around 90% of snakebites are caused by the 'big four' among the crawlers - common krait, Indian cobra, Russell's viper and saw scaled viper. Inadequate treatment is a key factor behind such a high death toll
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