Snakebites in India

Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR) at the University of Toronto, Canada, had recently conducted a study on snakebites with Indian and U.K. partners.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises snakebite as a top-priority neglected tropical disease (NTD).

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Key findings:

  1. Total deaths caused by snakebites in the 20-year period from 2000 to 2019:  1.2 million.
  2. Annual Average: 58,000.
  3. 70% of these deaths occurred in limited, low altitude, rural areas of eight States — Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana), Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  4. Half of all the snakebite deaths occurred during the monsoon period from June to September.
  5. Most of the envenomation (the process by which venom is injected by the bite or sting of a venomous animal) was by Russell’s vipers followed by kraits and cobras.
  6. Snakebite deaths occurred mostly in rural areas (97%), were more common in males (59%) than females (41%), and peaked at ages 15-29 years (25%).
  7. The numbers for annual snakebite deaths were highest in the States of Uttar Pradesh (8,700), Andhra Pradesh (5,200) and Bihar (4,500), it further added.

What needs to be done?

Since deaths are restricted mainly to lower altitude, intensely agricultural areas, during a single season of each year, this should make the annual epidemics easier to manage.

  1. Primary victims of snakebites are rural farmers and their families.

Experts suggest that targeting certain areas and educating people with simple methods such as ‘snake-safe’ harvest practices — using rubber boots and gloves, mosquito nets and rechargeable torches (or mobile phone flashlights) — could reduce the risk of snakebites.

  • Improved knowledge of the distribution of venomous snake species as well as the human consequences of bites.

India has sufficient capacity to manufacture large volumes of anti-venom. Better understanding of the distribution of India’s many venomous snake species could help in the design and development of more appropriate anti-venoms.

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