How To Survive A Snake Bite, Particularly A Cobra

Thailand is full of snakes — with more than 200 species, including cobras. That might be unsettling for some people, but others will also find it comfortable. In Thailand for instance, snakes are spread around most neighbourhood. They are scary but beautiful, according to some residents.

Snakes come in different shapes, names and sizes, and one of them is what they call- king cobra which is common in Indonesia. King cobras are the world’s longest venomous snake, with enough toxin to kill an elephant. They mostly dine on other snakes, including other cobras. But some residents in the area said they were concerned about some king cobras.

Cobras have an extensive range — from much of Africa into the Middle East, then into India and the rest of South Asia. From there, they continue into Southeast Asia and Indonesia. That puts them in potential contact with billions of people.

They belong to the elapid family of snakes, which has roughly 300 venomous species. Coral snakes, sea snakes, mambas and others. As per experts, there are about 30 cobra species, with Africa accounting for roughly two-thirds of the species.

Generally, cobras deliver a neurotoxin, which interferes with nerve impulses and can cause paralysis of the heart and lungs. That’s different from that of many vipers, such as rattlesnakes. They generally have a hemotoxin that attacks the blood vessels and causes bleeding and tissue damage.

But Nick Brandehoff, who practices emergency medicine and medical toxicology in Colorado and California, said he and other experts are learning that snake venom is more complicated than that simple breakdown. Some elapids have hemotoxic properties, and some vipers have neurotoxic properties. It can vary from snake to snake.

Either way, venomous snakebites are a serious problem in many tropical regions. Only an average of five people die a year of venomous snakebites in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the World Health Organization estimates around 81,000 to 138,000 people die each year worldwide from snakebites, while about three times that many people live with permanent disabilities.

Despite the high number of deaths and envenomings (bites in which venom is delivered into the body), don’t assume cobras are aggressive.

Cobras are shy snakes, and though they make a dramatic show when cornered and alarmed, rearing up, spreading a hood, and hissing loudly, this is stark fear, not aggression, and they don’t chase people, according to snake experts.

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In the wild, cobras are found in forests and shrublands throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, and they don’t like to bite people.
Venom is valuable to the snake, and it is used to immobilize prey and begin the digestion process, which the snake needs because it eats whole food items and has no limbs to help it in this process.

The vast majority of cobra bites happen to agricultural workers in fields and other locals, often low-income people living in easy-to-enter dwellings and who sleep on the floor, as per experts.

Cobras are most common in agricultural areas thanks to the proliferation of their favorite prey: rats and mice. Alert snakes like cobras are frightened of humans and usually flee or freeze when a human approaches. The odds of encountering a cobra on the usual tourist routes in India or Thailand are very slim.

If you do find yourself bedding down in a place more likely to attract cobras, snake doctors suggest that you:

• Keep debris away from the shelter
• Clean up food and grains that might attract rats
• Try to keep furniture higher up off the floor and sleep in an elevated bed.

They warn that it is essential to shine a flashlight when walking at night and not putting your hands in thick, bushy spots. However, when you see one, experts say leave the snake alone.

Move deliberately and calmly away from the snake — while keeping an eye on its location if possible.
Move to an open area free of brush and rock outcrops if possible if you’re outdoors.
Do not try to restrain it, capture it or kill it with a broom or shovel or anything, she emphasized.

Snake doctors say the cobra bites usually don’t happen from the strike of a cobra in the hooded posture but … happen when the snake is stressed by being stepped upon or mistakenly grabbed.

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Move quickly away. Human reaction time is so slow compared to their strike so there may not be much you can do — but typically the trajectory of the cobra’s bite is forward and downward, and they are not able to change direction mid-strike, so perhaps a sideways rapid move away from the snake may be beneficial.

What To Do If You Are Bitten:

Cobra bites are very serious business. But they are by no means a death sentence.
Most snakebites, even cobra bites, are not fatal, as per snake doctors. But any snakebite must be treated as a medical emergency.

The single most important thing to do is to get to a hospital without any delay. Do not resort to any local or home remedy because there is only one cure for a snakebite and that is antivenom.

You should try to stay calm and “immobilize the limb that was bitten, get to the closest hospital without delay (and) make a note of where the bite occurred and the time the bite occurred. Also, get a description or photo of the snake if it can be taken safely. This can help doctors with treatment.

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Do not tie a tourniquet or try the old “cut and suction” method, nor should you use a so-called “snakebite kit.” If the bite comes from a cobra with strictly neurotoxic venom, people may recommend a crepe wrap, which can help reduce the spread of the venom from a limb to the rest of the body via compression.

The problem with that is most people don’t know what kind of snake bit them” and that it’s not reasonable to expect people to readily ID various cobra species. And if the venom has hemotoxic properties, a wrap can cause more harm than good, damaging tissue around the bite area. Rings and other jewelry should be removed.

The earlier antivenom can be administered, the better your chances of not having long-term disability or potentially dying,” experts recommend. Spitting cobras can cause “venom ophthalmoplegia,” which is basically burning of the eyes, Permanent damage can occur but is rarer. The main treatment is washing the eyes “copiously”.

Why Cobras Aren’t Our Enemies:

Cobras keep the environment in balance.
Without cobras, the rodent problem in agricultural areas could lead to famine, These are the most efficient rodent predators in existence, able to enter rat burrows and clean out the entire family.But he said antivenom efforts must continue.

People who appreciate and respect snakes need to support programs to help reduce the tremendous burden of snakebites affecting tens of millions of rural people in Africa, Asia and South America,” snake experts suggest. According to the latter, we can’t attempt to eradicate snakebites like we can malaria. The best thing we can do is try to mitigate snakebites by trying to minimize contacts.

We need to “learn to live with them. … In a lot of cultures, there’s a lot of fear of snakes.

Credit: CNN and Prangmart Charoenwai (Thailand)

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