If you live in a place that has venomous snakes or are travelling to one, you need to know the ways to avoid being bitten.
Although snake antivenoms have been around for over a century, Africa, with its abundance of deadly snakes, has an alarming shortage of the life-saving medicine.
Experts and campaigners blame a combination of weak production capacity, feeble policy and oversight, high prices, and a general lack of concern for the plight of people in poor, remote areas of the world.
Prevention, they say, is better than cure.
So, to be on the safe side, here are a few tips to avoid being bitten by venomous snakes and some first aid tips for snake bites.
1. Do not provoke
Snakes will usually not attack unless they feel threatened. Stomp heavily when walking in areas where there might be snakes, striking with a stick on the ground in front of you to warn any reptiles you are coming. They will most likely just slither away. Most strikes occur when snakes feel cornered or under threat, or when people accidentally step on them.
2. Look for snakes that might be lurking
Keep it in mind that snakes are often well-camouflaged in their environment, whether in the desert, forest or bush. Outside, take a good look around you for snakes that may hang from tree branches, hide under rocks or swim in water. Be careful when turning over rocks or other objects.
3. Always stay alert and prepared
When gardening and farming, always wear thick, protective gloves. Carry a lamp at night. When walking in the bush, wear sturdy leather shoes. Many animals, especially birds, have an alarm cry to alert others of hidden danger. Listen out for them.
4. Check your home
Check your home, especially your bed and dark corners, for snakes. They can enter homes in pursuit of prey, heat or water. Always keep your home as neat and clutter-free as you can. The neater your home is, the more likely you are to spot an out-of-place snake. A mosquito net around your bed can also be an effective snake repellent.
5. Other major tips
But what happens in the event that someone gets bitten?
- Stay calm: Staying calm in such a situation helps you and others to stay in control. Panicking only makes it worse.
- Try and remember the colour and shape of the snake.
- Seek immediate care immediately at a clinic or hospital.
- In case of swelling, remove any bracelets, rings or watches that may hamper blood flow.
- Do NOT try and catch the snake, apply a tourniquet, cut the wound, suck out the venom, or drink alcohol or coffee.
- Do not seek to inject your own antivenom. Doing that could induce a violent allergic reaction. It needs to be administered in a professional environment with adrenaline and oxygen on hand.
Sources: Doctors Without Borders, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Action International, Bio-Ken Research Centre, AFP.