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After Floods, Snake SOS Keeps Kerala on Toes as Survivors Return to Reptile-Infested Homes

As the water started receding, the incidents of snakebite were reported from different parts of Kerala and in some areas, people were reluctant to return home.

Hridayesh Joshi |

Updated:August 22, 2018, 12:26 PM IST
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After Floods, Snake SOS Keeps Kerala on Toes as Survivors Return to Reptile-Infested Homes
Snakes were slithering inside the flood-hit homes in Kerala. (Vivek Sharma/IndianSnakes)
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Thiruvananthapuram: After saving the lives of flood-affected people, rescue workers have a new task at hand in Kerala — to deal with large number of snakes who have surfaced after inundation.

These reptiles have become a risk for those who are returning home. Several snakebite experts and conservationists are now dealing on the ground zero to ameliorate the situation and many others are aiding via phone, WhatsApp and other modes of communication.

“We are getting a large number of calls and we have to educate people about dos and don’ts at this moment,” says Priyanka Kadam, founder of Snakebite Healing and Education Society.

As the water started receding, the incidents of snakebite were reported from different parts of Kerala and in some areas, people were reluctant to return home.

Though the problem of snakes has just been highlighted in one state due to the unprecedented floods and its aftermaths, snakebite has always been a serious problem in villages as well as in urban areas.

India has highest snakebite mortality in the world and according to one report of experts, released in 2011, more than 50,000 people die in the country due to snakebites every year. This is half the number of deaths which occur due to Hepatitis-B in India. Many get disabled and depend on others for livelihood for the whole life.

WhatsApp Image 2018-08-22 at 11.01.35
(Vivek Sharma/IndianSnakes)

Nevertheless, this problem has received little attention in media unlike other man-animal conflicts.

“Snake bites are not reported much in media, and these are not considered a man-animal conflict. Also, because often the snake bite happens in villages and the people who die are mainly poor people,” says Romulus Whitaker, the herpetologist and conservationist.

In India, more than 300 species of snakes are found. Among them more than four dozen are considered venomous and semi-venomous. However, there are only four species of snakes that are responsible for maximum number of deaths.

These four dangerous reptiles are Russel’s viper, Saw scale viper, Cobra and Krait. They are found across the country. Experts say that there is insufficient support structure and awareness to deal with snakebites in the country and often it is difficult to save the life of the victim.

Twenty-year-old Jitesh from a small village of Mahasamund in Chhattisgarh was bitten by a Krait and didn’t realise it until his condition deteriorated. Krait is one reptile whose bite often goes unrecognized.

“Kraits are active during night and known for getting inside houses and biting people sleeping on the ground,” says Priyanka Kadam. So, if the person is bitten while asleep, it is possible he or she would not know it and that can be life threatening.

WhatsApp Image 2018-08-22 at 11.01.36 (1)
(Vivek Sharma/IndianSnakes)

Almost all the snakebites are accidents and they can be avoided with some precaution. Snakes are mostly found in fields where a lot of rats come in search of food. A rat, being a snake’s favourite diet, makes the farmland most preferred habitat for snakes. This cycle also makes snakes necessary for farmers as they reduce the number of rats in fields. Though, farmers themselves are most common victims of snakebite.

In villages people store the grain at home. It again invites rats and snakes creep in after them.

WhatsApp Image 2018-08-22 at 11.01.36
(Vivek Sharma/IndianSnakes)

But if somebody is bitten by a venomous snake the only way to save the life is to give him or her, the anti-venom. Superstitions still prevail and people often go to ojhas and tantriks rather than going to hospital. As a result, precious time is lost before the proper treatment is given to the patient.

A good medical infrastructure and expert practitioner is needed to save the human life. Anti-venom should be available in primary health centers but unfortunately, they aren’t available easily everywhere. It causes deaths not only in villages -where most snake bites occur – but also in well-connected towns several times.

For instance, last year 10-year-old Manan suffered a snake bite while holidaying in Diu. He was referred to Una because the local hospital in Diu where he was admitted, did not have adequate quantity of anti-venom to treat him. His life could not be saved.

The strength of anti-venom is also an issue. In India the anti-venom which is available is a polyvalent. It means one anti-venom is available to cure the entire range of snakebites. This anti-venom is prepared by the venom collected in Irula Cooperative Society in Chennai. Since it is made from the poison of snakes from the same area, it is not equally effective for the snakebites across the country.

“While the anti-venom itself is a polyvalent which means it will act against any of the big four snakes but within snakes itself there is something we call a variation in the venom intensity. It means that if a spectacle cobra bites somebody in Tamil Nadu, the person will need very little anti-venom. But if a spectacle cobra of Rajasthan or Gujrat bites somebody, one will need a lot more of the anti-venom for treatment, says Shaleen Attre, co-founder of Indian Snakes.

Attre added, “So venom collection needs to be expedited by the government right now. Every state government needs to give priority to endemic and local snakes from there and collect the data about what kind of snakes are biting people there.”
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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