Beware of venomous snakebites, doctor says

People who were bitten should remember the snake’s appearance to help doctors select the right antivenom, the emergency physician said

  • By Weng Yu-huang and Kayleigh Madjar / Staff reporter, with staff writer

Hikers should beware of venomous snakes, as March and April typically mark the end of hibernation season, a doctor said ahead of the long holiday this weekend.

As Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping Day approach, many people are expected to visit cemeteries in mountainous areas or engage in outdoor activities.

However, spring also heralds the end of hibernation and beginning of the mating season for many types of snakes, Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital emergency physician Lin Po-chen (Hayashi Kashiwa) said yesterday.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital

The six most common types of snake venom in Taiwan can be classified into three categories: hemotoxic, neurotoxic or mixed, he said.

Severity depends on the placement of the bite, and type and amount of venom that reaches the circulatory system, he said.

Common snakes with hemotoxic venom in Taiwan include the green tree viper (Viridovipera stejnegeri), Taiwanese habu (Protobothrops mucrosquamatus) and hundred-pace pit viper (Deinagkistrodon acutus), Lin said.

Minor bites could result in bruising, swelling or blistering, while more severe cases could cause muscle damage, kidney failure, irregular blood coagulation or other potentially fatal complications, he added.

Snakes with neurotoxic venom include the many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus) and Taiwan cobra (Naja atra), Lin said.

After a minor bite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and numbness in the limbs is possible, as well as signs of muscle paralysis such as drooping eyelids, blurred vision, slurred speech and salivation, he said.

Severe cases might lead to unconsciousness, coma and potentially fatal respiratory failure, he added.

Some snakes, such as the Formosan Russell’s viper (Daboia siamensis), have a mix of the two types of venom, Lin said.

Each type has its own antivenom, which has greatly reduced the incidence of serious injury or death from accidental snakebites, he said.

If bitten, Lin advised remaining as calm as possible and remembering the snake’s appearance, including color and pattern.

If possible, taking a photograph of the snake would help doctors select the correct antivenom, Lin added.

It is also important to immediately remove any watches, rings or other things that might impede swelling, and to rinse the wound with water or saline, he added.

Lin advised against excessive movement, as this increases blood flow and can accelerate the spread of the venom.

The area near the bite should also be kept below the chest to impede the flow of venom to the heart, he added.

Snakebites should be treated differently from regular wounds, as some common treatments such as icing, tourniquets or holding the injured area higher than the heart could exacerbate rather than stop the spread of the venom, Lin said.

He also advised against other treatments associated with snakebites, such as widening the wound, sucking the venom out, urinating on the wound or drinking alcohol.

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