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What to do in case of a snakebite

WATAMU, September 29 – Nine year-old Abdul is picking passion fruits on his family’s farm in Watamu on a warm Saturday morning. Suddenly a venomous snake emerges unnoticed and bites the young boy’s leg.

As its victim screams, the reptile slithers away into the bushes. The boy’s mother runs to her son, recognises the snakebite and frantically calls for help from her neighbours who in turn have little knowledge of what to do.

The snake’s venom spreads along the boy’s leg. It swells and his energy drains.

One of the neighbours produces a piece of cloth, which she ties above the bite to prevent further spread of the venom. The boy is then taken to hospital, some twenty kilometers away, by which time it is too late. The poison has already spread too far and there is nothing much the doctors can do.

After an hour of anguish, young Abdul dies. 

 “Snake bite is a medical emergency, it has to be dealt with urgently and correctly,” Royjan Taylor, the Director of Bio Ken snake farm told Capital News.

Established 28 years ago in Watamu, Malindi District, Bio Ken is a collecting and research centre for snakes.

Mr Taylor says Kenya is home to approximately 127 different snake species, including 97 poisonous ones. Coastal and Western Kenya are areas where the snakes are commonly found.

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“We have a lot of people who have no idea of how to treat a snake bite and many of them are either treated incorrectly because of misinformation and superstition. Also there is a big problem in shortage of good quality anti venom,” he says.
It is estimated that more than 600,000 people around the world are bitten by venomous snakes annually, and 20,000 of them die.

Mr Taylor says use of anti venom is the only way to treat snakebite. “If the snake is not poisonous, no anti venom is required,” he clarifies, adding that only a qualified doctor should administer such treatment.

According to studies conducted in Brazil, clinical complications of snake bites and antivenom therapy include tissue loss, acute renal failure, shock, acute lung oedema, chronic renal failure or death.

Mr Taylor recommends the following first aid steps in the event of snakebite.

•   Stay calm and get safely away from the snake. The less the victim moves the bitten area, the less likely the  venom will spread through the body.

•   Have the victim lie down with the affected limb lower than the heart. Keep the limb immobilized. If practical, splint the limb.

•    Treat for shock and preserve body heat.

•    Remove any rings, bracelets, boots, or other restricting items from the bitten edge.

•    Apply a light constricting band about 2" above and below the bite, however never place the bands on either side of a joint (such as above and below the knee or elbow). This band should be made up of wide, soft material, which could be a handkerchief or shredded clothing. The purpose of constricting bands is to restrict lymphatic flow, not blood, so they should not be too tight.

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•    Wash the bite with soap and water (Though sometimes it is not recommended so as to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits).

•    Do not apply anything cold as this could worsen the situation.

•    If the victim has to walk out, sit calmly for 20-30 minutes to let the venom confine at the spot, then proceed calmly to the nearest source of help and try to avoid unnecessary exertion, which will stimulate circulation of the venom. 

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