Snakebite emerging as a public health issue in Nagaland

The Northern Red-necked Keelback and Red-tailed Pitviper are among the 16 venomous snakes found in Nagaland, the Nagaland Forest Department has informed. (Morung Photo)

The Northern Red-necked Keelback and Red-tailed Pitviper are among the 16 venomous snakes found in Nagaland, the Nagaland Forest Department has informed. (Morung Photo)

Out of 65 snake species found in State, 16 venomous

Morung Express News
Kohima | June 13

Snakebite is emerging as a public health issue in Nagaland, where 16 species of venomous snakes have been identified.

The data were shared by officials during the State’s first-ever workshop on the National Programme for Prevention & Control of Snake Envenoming, held here today at the conference hall of the Directorate of Health & Family Welfare (DoHFW), Kohima.

The workshop was necessitated by the emergence of snakebite incidents as a public health issue not only in India but in Nagaland with the onset of the monsoon season, a health official stated. 

The risk group for snakebites mainly comprises rural communities and tribal populations, including farmers, plantation workers, gardeners, construction site workers, herders, fishermen, forest officers, army personnel, snake rescuers, trekkers, and campers.

According to the Nagaland Forest Department’s (NFD) data, a total of 65 species of snakes have been identified in the state, of which 16 are venomous and 49 are non-venomous. 

Speaking as one of the resource persons, Lansothung Lotha, Range Forest Officer, NFD, informed that around 3,000 species of snakes have been discovered to date, of which only 20% (600 species) are venomous and only 7% (200 species) of these snakes can kill a human. 

India has more than 270 species of snakes, of which around 60 species are venomous, he said.

The 16 venomous snakes found in Nagaland are Northern Red-necked Keelback, Common Himalayan Keelback, Northeastern Hill Krait, Banded Krait, Greater Black Krait, Monocellate Cobra, King Cobra, Southeast Asian Coral Snake, Western Mountain Pitviper, Northern Bamboo Pitviper, Spotted Mountain Pitviper, Brown-spotted Pitviper, Southeast Asian White-lipped Tree Pitviper, Red-tailed Pitviper, Yunnan Green Tree Pitviper, and Pope’s Pitviper.

Giving the global data on snakebites, Lotha said about 4.5-5.4 million people get bitten by snakes annually, of which 1.8-2.7 million develop clinical illness and 81,000 to 138,000 die from complications. 

The countries with the highest incidences of snakebite deaths include India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Nigeria, Mali, Togo, Benin, Senegal, and Papua New Guinea. 

In India, over 50,000 people are killed each year due to bites from the ‘Big 4’ venomous species, namely the Indian or Spectacled Cobra, Common Krait, Russell’s Viper, and Saw-scaled Viper, the officer added.

Explaining the different proteinaceous toxins, he said the only available treatment against snakebite is the use of antivenom, which is further categorised as monovalent (effective against a given species’ venom) and polyvalent (effective against the venom of several species).

Most victims seek local remedies rather than hospitals
Highlighting some of the challenges in treating snakebites, Lotha pointed out that victims often visit a local shaman or healer rather than seeking hospital treatment. 

He, however, pointed out that even for those who survive snakebite, the prognosis may not be good as some snake venoms cause massive tissue destruction, leading to limb deformity or loss.

Each year, up to 400,000 snakebite victims may be disabled in this way, he estimated.

Snakebites, though terrible to endure, are not without a cure, Lotha said, highlighting the first aid measures in case of snakebites, as well as dos and don'ts. 

While snakes do not attack humans on purpose, except when threatened, he advised that in the event of a snakebite, ensuring the person stays calm, making the right diagnosis, and prescribing the correct treatment can save lives.

Dr Akuo Sorhie, Mission Director of the National Health Mission Nagaland, in her keynote address, emphasised the necessity of the snakebite envenoming programme initiative in the state and the country as a whole due to the high incidence of snakebites each year, leading to severe morbidity and mortality.

The incidences are particularly high in rural communities where agriculture and other outdoor activities increase the risk of encounters with snakes, she added. 

To this end, she stressed on the need for a dedicated programme to reduce mortality, train healthcare providers, improve access to healthcare services, empower communities, foster research and development, raise public awareness, and advocate for policy changes to address this neglected tropical disease effectively.

Dr Ajit D Shewale, Deputy Director, DZDP, NCDC, and Dr Mohan, Assistant Professor, CMC Vellore, as resource persons, spoke on the national action plan for the prevention and control of snakebite envenoming and the clinical management of snakebite envenoming.