Snake Bites, a Much More Serious Problem Than you Thought

I hate snakes. It turns out that I hate them with due cause! Snake bites are responsible for 50,000 deaths per year in India alone and that is thought to be a considerable underestimate.[1] Most snakes bite in the day or early evening and most cause considerable pain at the location of the bite. Not so the common krait (Bungarus caeruleus).[2] The krait hunts by night and most of its bites occur after midnight. The poison is ten times more potent than that of the cobra. Fully one-third of krait bites are fatal. People are often bitten while sleeping on the ground. The krait’s teeth are like small needles, so the victim often does not know that they have been bitten. The victim will soon present with abdominal pain and descending paralysis, and may even become ‘locked in’.

Access to care is a big problem following snake bites, since every hour counts. However, mis-diagnosis, lack of anti-venom, and lack of ventilators all contribute to the high mortality rate from snake bites. The biggest problem is probably access, and thousands of people die through neglect. This is just one of many diseases that could be more successfully tackled if access to places of care was improved, a topic I am pursuing as part of Dion Morton’s NIHR Unit on Global Surgery.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Mohapatra B, Warrell DA, Suraweera W, et al. Snakebite mortality in India: a nationally representative mortality survey. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011; 5: e1018.
  2. Bawaskar HS, Bawaskar PH, Bawaskar PH. Snake bite in India: a neglected disease of poverty. Lancet. 2017; 390: 1947-8.

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