We had two visitors from Jan Swathiya Sahayog, Bilaspur. And no, they were not the biting kind. Dr.Yogesh and Dr.Parag conducted a workshop on Management of Animal Bites. I didn’t really plan to sit in on it, as bites are awfully gory and painful and I don’t plan to be injecting anyone with immunoglobulin in the near future. But since Mitra was organizing things, I found myself sitting right under the huge poster of snakes. Thanks to growing up in Vellore and then The Shola Trust in the Nilgiris, I know the big four – cobra, krait, russells viper (my favourite as we’ve had plenty of these come home to visit) and saw-scaled viper. And of course, stomping your feet when walking in the dark to make sure snakes can get out of your way. They don’t want to be trampled on any more than you want to step on them!
But there’s a lot more worth learning and here’s some interesting stuff I picked up from the JSS team:
Reassure the patient
Immobilise like a fracture
Tell the doctor all the symptoms
Snake bites are either neuro-toxic (cobra, krait) or haemo-toxic (viper), which means they affect the nervous system or the blood. The eye go down first, followed by ears, mouth, neck, etc ending in respiratory failure, or when the blood stops clotting correctly, kidney failure. Anti-venom can neutralize toxicity while it’s still in the blood and not yet attached to tissue – so get to it fast!
They had 7 steps to avoid being bitten by snakes – all of which are applicable here as well.
Snakes prefer dry, cool, dark places, so
- Stamp, stomp when walking
- Don’t pick up things in the dark – use a torch (they’ve introduced solar lights in many areas!)
- Bang firewood piles, fertilizer sacks etc with a stick before picking up
- Wear shoes when possible
- Bang on the paddy before gathering for harvest
- Sleep on a bed if possible
- If not possible, sleep in a mosquito net – LOVE THIS ONE!
A few quick don’ts – don’t cut or incise or tie a tight tourniquet.
Batthi ali is the one person I know who was bitten by a snake recently. She was cutting grass on the hills above the village, and picked up a snake with the grass. The bite on the wrist was painful – she said she killed the snake out of anger for causing her so much pain. She continued to cut grass and when her arm started swelling, came back into the village. The snake was apparently yellow – keelback?- no clue really. One thing new that I learned was that 50% of snake bites are DRY – which means even if the snake is venomous, you’ve got half a chance that it hasn’t pumped its venom into you! Still – not need to experiment and wait to see the symptoms or results!
According to the Million Deaths Study, 10 lakh people are bitten by snakes every year, and 40,000 die from snake bite! Pretty shocking actually. But for all the stats – we didn’t seem to be encountering so many deaths or even bites either at the Hospital or in the village health centres. There are tons of creepy-crawlies here, and in comparison, the number of bites seems pretty low in our area. I’ve seen many snakes, there was a massive red scorpion outside our door the other day (on the 1st floor might I add, so it had obviously shimmied up the stairs with ease!). Maybe they just don’t come to our notice. Or maybe there is still enough space for us all and therefore human-animal conflict is less in our more sparsely populated area. Time will probably tell, and in some years, perhaps we’ll have higher incidences of bites, like in more Central India. Until then, let’s enjoy learning about the creatures we share our space, resources and lives with!