Summertime and the snakes are biting
But a new antivenom is in the works.
More than ever before, boar hunters and outdoors people are encountering venomous snakes. The number of snakebites requiring antivenom is rising dramatically across the United States. This is not an entirely new trend but rather the continuation of a development that has been observed during at least the past decade.
The news is the size and speed of the dramatic increase in the recent upward trend. Furthermore, we are looking at a worldwide shift in bite numbers and expanding areas plagued by snake bites. Certain countries are hit harder because of their climate. In the United States, for example, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Texas are taking the brunt of this development.
Overall, most bites from venomous snakes occur in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. India has the highest number of dangerous snakes with 280 venomous species out of 2,800 snake species total. Correspondingly, India also has the dubious honor of suffering the greatest number of fatal snake bites of all countries.
The World Health Organization puts the number of snake bites annually at over 5 million. Worldwide around 20,000 to 100,000 humans die from the bite of a snake. Most fatalities occur in sub-Saharan countries and in India.
Compared to India, California is paradise. A total of 33 species of snakes live in California. The Center for Disease Control estimates the number of rattlesnake bites at about 7,000 to 8,000 people per year. Kids account for many of the bites. Fatalities are extremely rare. Researchers say that approximately half a percent (.5) of Californians bitten by a venomous slitherer succumb annually to an envenomated bite.
The six venomous snakes in California are all pit vipers, commonly known as rattlesnakes with the exception of the coral snake. It is an elapid of the cobra family (elapidae). An antivenom to the venom of rattlesnakes does exist. The California Code of Regulations lists rattlers as ‘detrimental to public health and safety, native wildlife and agriculture. They have no protection. Any landowner can kill a rattlesnake at any time and with any legal means on his property without a license or permit. However, a bag limit of two snakes applies.
Hunters who pursue wild pigs in the wilderness of public land by still hunting for boar are most likely to face a surprised venomous snake. But don’t gloat just yet, you city dwellers. Rattlesnakes have your address too and intend to move in with you. Particularly when you live in a less populated area and have a large rural property with small livestock and much clutter. Such environments attract rodents. The snakes follow their food sources closely.
Why are still hunters, hikers, and campers more likely to get bit by a rattlesnake? Hunters in search of the elusive boar often still hunt. And as the name says, that means that a still hunter is less likely to warn a snake to retreat through noise, stomping around, and causing other noisy commotions. or to disturb otherwise the rattlesnake lying in ambush of small mammals The same applies to hikers or bird watchers, their companion dogs, and the like. They also are the quiet kind of outdoor users. Campers in the wilderness do so because of an unforeseen emergency or as a planned means of spending time on wilderness locations. In either case, they are quieter and less intrusive than, say, a beer or herb happy weekend warrior.
It is not too difficult to avoid a snake bite as I have explained in several of my articles.
What if you get bitten anyway?
First of all, stay in California. Your chances of getting hit by the bite of a venomous snake are much higher in North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. They have copperhead snakes there that are more aggressive. Fortunately, their venom is not very strong.
Nevertheless, the thought that copperhead bites increased by 83 percent in one year is discomforting. Over 2,100 humans were bitten by a copperhead in these states last year according to the Wall Street Journal.
In North Carolina and Georgia, the number of venomous bites increased by over 10% while Texas suffered a rise in snake bites by 27% in May and June compared to the same months five years ago. More bites mean more antivenom is needed to deal with the aftermath of the bites.
The exact reason for the rise in snake bites is not known. Researchers noticed particularly high growth rates in suburban areas. Which leads them to speculate that globally rising temperatures and the influx of people are among the causes of the upward trend in bites. Moreover, people now live in ever greater numbers in what used to be prime snake habitat, states the Wall Street Journal.
Is antivenom the panacea of treating snake bites?
Finally, we are getting around to talking about how to minimize the negative effects of a snake bite and to reduce the almost intolerable pain. It was high time.
If we disregard the traditional natural snake bite treatments of yesteryear for the purpose of this article, we are left with the usual trip to the nearest hospital and traditional application of antivenom. Or as an alternative your snakebite kit and equipment.
Nobody should venture into the wilderness without proper first aid equipment to treat snake bites. This certainly applies to hunters and wilderness campers and hikers. But you are also in grave danger if circumstances force an unplanned overnight stay.
Have you followed the news recently? With wilderness hiking getting more popular, a relatively high number of hikers and wildlife photographers getting lost in the wilderness. Some perished while others survived their ordeal for days before they were rescued.
Is there anything the survivors had in common? Yes, there is. Besides knowing the basic survival skills, they were all carrying some emergency equipment or, at least, knew how to fashion survival gear out of what was in their backpack or what they could find in the environment around them.
Traditional natural methods of treating a snake bite are ineffective to useless most of the time. Antivenom works but it is very expensive and must be snake specific to do its job. While doctors started out with one anti-venom, today we have hundreds. Yet, they must be fully snake-specific to be 100 percent effective.
Human antibodies versus snake bite?
In their never-ending quest for better treatment, scientists explored the case of a man who has been bitten by highly venomous snakes many times without lasting ill effects. Sometimes he allowed himself to be struck by more than one of the most venomous serpents in one day. He appears to be highly tolerant of their venom and to pain. His blood now contains antibodies to the most snake venom, among them Black Mamba, Green Mamba, and Cobra, to mention a few.
Traditionally, antivenom is produced by injecting large mammals with the venom from a venomous snake. The anti-bodies that build in the animal are harvested and processed into antivenom. It is snake specific yet often too weak to be effective.
On the other hand, the anti-bodies a human body produces are all-purpose bodies that are effective on all snake species and from various regions of the world.
Snake venom consists of 20 t0 70 or more individual proteins. Its composition can vary from animal to animal, even in snakes of the same species in the same location. Whenever a snake toxin enters the human bloodstream, our bodies produce antibodies for some of the protein. It follows that the more often a person is bitten, the more anti-bodies to the 20 t0 70 snake venom proteins they develop.
One scientist, in particular, developed a relationship with a man who has a high pain tolerance level. He also apparently enjoys being bitten by the most dangerous venomous snakes without major bad side effects. Anti-bodies to the venom of the most lethal snakes are now coursing in his bloodstream. The symbiosis between the human producer of anti-bodies and science, so the two hope, will lead to perfecting the production of human antibodies to snake venom and to a profitable, high-volume business for both.
When exposed to snake venom, human B cells produce thousands of proteins to find those that offset the effect of the toxic protein in snake bites. Once antibodies developed, the human B cells keep on improving, or you could also say, fine-tuning the antibodies.
There is still much scientific work to be done before a universal anti-venom becomes widely available. Furthermore, some scientists object to the entire idea of self-immunization of individuals in order to produce anti-venom.
The process is complicated and full of pitfalls. There is still a long way to go before human-based, universal anti-venom for snake bites is ready for production and public use.
Nevertheless, since this type of anti-venom is universal and does not only offset the venom from certain snakes, it is worth all the efforts and the pain self-immunizators have to suffer.
Read a very long, detailed and complicated article here if you want to know all the intricate details of the process. But be warned, the publication is rather convoluted and at times hard to follow. But it is worth and interesting reading it because much of the information is cutting-edge frontline science.
And I would be careless not to mention an equally fascinating BBC article about venomous snakes and their venom. You can find it here.
Be informed, understand and realize that venomous serpents are widespread, and learn how to avoid them and what to do if you were careless and got bitten.
Latest posts by pjj (see all)
- Mast drop essential for wild boar and other wildlife - September 16, 2019
- Dove hunting specials 2019 dove season - September 9, 2019
- Non-hunting outdoor events - September 5, 2019