Best tips for avoiding a snakebite in Africa

Snakebites in Africa are most common in the sub-Saharan countries, i.e., African countries that are located south of the Sahara — (scorpion stings are more common in Northern Africa).

Approximately 1 million snakebites occur in sub-Saharan Africa each year, resulting in up to 25,000 deaths and/or permanent disabilities.

This is largely because the majority of snakebites occur in rural areas, where access to healthcare services is limited.

Currently, there is only enough anti-venom (also called antivenin) available to treat about 10 per cent of snakebite cases. It appears pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to manufacture anti-venom, probably because of low patronage?

Also, doctors with expert knowledge on snakebite treatment are not many. Without treatment, up to 20 per cent of victims will die and 5 per cent will require amputations.

Most snakebites occur between October to April, when snakes are more active and outdoor activities are popular.

You can avoid snakebites by taking the following steps:

  1. Avoid places where snakes may live. These places include tall grass or brush, rocky areas, fallen logs, bluffs, swamps, marshes, and deep holes in the ground.
  2. When moving through tall grass or weeds, poke at the ground in front of you with a long stick to scare away snakes.
  3. Watch where you step and where you sit when outdoors.
  4. Wear loose, long pants and high, thick leather or rubber boots.
  5. Shine a flashlight on your path when walking outside at night.
  6. Never handle a snake, even if you think it is dead. Recently killed snakes may still bite by reflex. Some snakes are also capable of biting even when their mouth is closed, e.g., the mole viper [ubi]

What should I do if a snake bites me?

  • Stay calm.
  • If you saw the snake, try to remember what it looks like. Do NOT approach the snake; don’t try to catch it or to kill it.
  • Take off any jewellery or tight clothing near the bite quickly, before swelling starts.
  • Lift a bitten arm or leg so it is level with your heart.
  • Clean the bite wound. Be sure to wipe in the direction away from the wound.
  • If you think the bite was from a poisonous snake, get to a hospital as soon as you can.
  • If medical help is more than 30 minutes away, tie an elastic wrap two inches above the bite. The wrap should be loose enough to slip a finger underneath it.
  • Do NOT try to bleed the wound.
  • Do NOT try to suck the venom out of the wound.
  • Do NOT put ice on the bite



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