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Snake bite cases underestimated

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

20th December 2012 -- We only have one type of native poisonous snake in the wild to worry about, the adder, but new figures suggest snake bites are underestimated.

New figures published in the Emergency Medicine Journal show snake bite injuries account for up to two phone calls a week to the UK National Poisons Information Service.

Adder bites

Although adders have a poisonous bite, being nipped by one is rarely fatal. There have been 14 deaths attributed to adder bites since 1856.

A bite from an adder, or to give it its formal name, the European adder or Vipera berus, can have a serious effect on the heart and cause excessive swelling.

Snake bites do not always lead to the injection of venom into the wound. However, even when no venom is released, a wound may still become infected. One of the greatest risks from a snake attack is anxiety caused by being bitten.

In May, the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) said 196 adder bites were recorded between 2009 and 2011 in England, Scotland and Wales. Around half the cases were from people picking up adders but because adders are well camouflaged people can accidentally tread on them and get bitten.

Between 2004 and 2010, around 510 calls about snakebites were made.

  • 52% were about adders.
  • 26% were about imported exotic snakes kept as pets.

Pet snakes

3% of the exotic snake bites were from poisonous snakes, including rattlesnakes and green mambas.

The most common calls were about corn or rat snakes, boas, pythons and the western hognose.

The average age of people injured by snakes was 32, but ranged from under a year old to an 87 year old.

Men and boys accounted for over two thirds of snake injuries, and more calls about snakes were received in August, when adders are most active, than in other months.

42% of calls were about poisonous bites and 85 of cases needed anti-venom to be administered.

If someone is bitten by a snake, they should try to keep calm and get to the nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department. Snake bite patients are likely to be admitted to hospital for 24 hours for their blood pressure and general health to be monitored.

Reviewed on December 20, 2012

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