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Snake bites caused 1.2 million deaths since 2000

A total of 1.2 million overall deaths have been attributed to snake bites in India since 2000, according to a recent study.

Snake bite
Image attribution: Wikimedia Commons, user: Join2manish

The majority of cases, amounting to seventy percent, occurred in similar regions and circumstances. Rural areas, particularly during monsoon at low-altitude regions accounted for this bulk of cases. The rate of deaths was highest across eight states – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Most deaths were due to Russell’s vipers followed by kraits and cobras.

In early 2018, Health Issues India reported on a study that noted that an estimated forty-five thousand people die annually in India from snakebites. That report stated that hospital underreporting of the issue allows for widely varied estimates, ranging from 1,300 to 50,000.

The recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal e-Life on July 7th gives a higher figure, estimating a yearly average of 58,000 deaths. The study was conducted by researchers from the Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR); the University of Toronto; Oxford University; the Madras Crocodile Bank; the Indian Council of Medical Research; and St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences.

“India is witnessing almost half of the world’s total snakebite deaths,” said Professor David Warrell, author of the paper. In concurrence with the 2018 study, the authors believe the issue to be severely underreported in India. A major cause of this is the localities in which the deaths are taking place. As with a multitude of other diseases, the situations and treatment outcomes are often far worse in rural locations due to subpar healthcare infrastructure.

As Health Issues India noted at the time “Many of these deaths are entirely preventable. Antivenom exists that could save thousands of lives. Supply chains for these antivenoms are not adequate to address the issue. Underreporting by the hospitals may be making this issue harder to address as the authorities do not know which areas need treatments most.”

“Overall lifetime risk (before age seventy) of being killed by snakebite is about one in 250, but in some areas, especially high burden states, lifetime risk reaches one in 100. While fifty percent of deaths occurred between the age group of thirty and 69 years, over a quarter of deaths were for children less than fifteen years old,” said CGHR director Prabhat Jha, one of the study’s authors.

More needs to be done to address the issue of snake bites in India given their considerable death toll. Many of these deaths are avoidable if only the infrastructure to provide antivenom existed. More data on the issue could help to inform both policy and supply chains, leading to improvements that could considerably alleviate the burden of the issue.

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