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Appropriate antivenoms an effective treatment for snakebites

28 May 2010 -- In contrast to many other serious health conditions, a highly effective treatment to snakebites exists. Most deaths and serious consequences from snakebites are entirely preventable by making antivenom more widely available.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we examine the problem of venomous snakesbites and how a new w WHO website will show where venomous snake species and antivenoms can be found.

Veronica Riemer: An estimated 5 million people are bitten by venomous snakes each year with 2.5 million needing treatment. Bites by venomous snakes can cause paralysis that may prevent breathing; bleeding disorders that can lead to fatal haemorrhage. People may also suffer kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and may result in limb amputation. In contrast to many other serious health conditions, a highly effective treatment exists. Most deaths and serious consequences from snakebites are entirely preventable by making antivenom more widely available. The problem is that very few countries produce snake venoms of adequate quality for antivenom manufacture.

WHO has responded to this problem by developing guidelines on antivenom production, regulation and control. Furthermore, WHO's new illustrated online database allows users to identify poisonous snakes, where they live and find out about available antivenom products in their area. David Williams, a Herpetologist and Toxinologist worked with WHO to build this website. He tells us more about the information available.

David Williams: The aim of this website is to bring together information about the different types of snakes that are found in different parts of the world and the antivenoms that are currently available to treat bites by those snakes. The main role of that is so that regulatory authorities know which antivenoms should be licensed in their jurisdictions, medical practitioners know which type of antivenoms they need to treat patients and because the site gives information on where exactly the snakes are found, it helps procurement providers determine exactly which antivenoms need to go where.

The information that is available is on the current products that are in the market place for which there is a good body of evidence that supports their safety and efficacy.

The website has contact details for the manufacturers and it is the sort of thing for example where if you are in a procurement agency you can look at the distribution maps of the animals and see which part of your country those particular medicines need to be positioned in, in order to meet the needs of patients.

Veronica Riemer: Snake bites, particularly in rural Bangladesh, are a major cause of death. People involved in agricultural activities such as tending crops or gardens, fishing, and plantation or wood collection are the most at risk. Most snake bites occur during the monsoon season from June to October. Professor Abul Faiz works at the Sir Salimullah Medical College in Dhaka. He tells us why rural populations are most in danger.

Professor Abul Faiz: Most bites happen while working either in the agricultural field or in water. The majority of the snakebite victims are of young age and this reflects that the active population is at higher risk of snakebites. This information has important public health implications that the younger age group should be given priority in directing any intervention to snakebite.

However, bites are fairly common with the victims while walking on rural foot paths or while sleeping on the floor. You know most of the houses in Bangladesh are not brick built and the snakes sometimes live in the holes of the muddy floors. Moreover most of the houses have homestead bush, which offers an ideal habitat for snakes. As a result, events of snakebites are common when people are at home. To go to the toilet or for other domestic purposes, people often come out of their houses and become victims.

You know, rural people also store grains, including paddy rice, in their bedroom, and also keep the poultry in the same dwelling house which also provides shelter to the snake, therefore increasing the risk of snake bite. Children have particularly are at high risk of dying or suffering permanent disability from snakebite envenoming.

Veronica Riemer: The information on snake distribution and availability of safe and effective antivenoms will assist public health officials in determining what antivenoms are needed in their country and help shape national public health policy. We spoke to Dr Kyei-Faried from the Disease Control and Prevention Department in Ghana.

Dr Kyei-Faried: Coming up with guidelines provides the opportunity internationally to standardize antivenom productions to provide guidelines in antivenom distribution across the continent. It also provides opportunity for one to gain a fuller understanding of the quality and the efficacy of antivenom from different companies, and locally it also provides guidelines as to the protocol that has to be followed in dealing with cases and managing complications and dealing with even complications of the use of the antivenom.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. You can access this new WHO website through the links on the transcript page of this podcast. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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