Photo courtesy: Bal Krishna Koirala

High numbers of snake bites in Bhutan but awareness and anti-venom limited

Snakebite incidents in Bhutan have become a growing concern, with an increase in reported cases in southern Dzongkhags prompting urgent measures to address the issue and raise public awareness. Recent incidents highlight the need for preventive measures and improved medical resources to combat venomous bites.

According to Mongar Hospital, one case of snakebite has been referred from Trashigang this year. In 2022, a total of five cases were recorded in Mongar Hospital, with one referred from Khaling Hospital and four from local Primary Health Centers (PHCs).

Gelephu reported five cases of snakebites this year till date, with one in April, three in May, and one in June. Besides the data, many cases go unreported. Despite the rise in incidents, there have been no reported fatalities so far.

The victims of snakebites range in age, with the youngest being a 20-year-old female and the oldest being 50 years old in Gelephu. These incidents often occur while individuals are working in fields or engaging in outdoor activities.

To ensure proper treatment, one of the Doctors in emergency department in Gelephu said that they closely monitor the stability of the patients before assessing blood clotting. To identify the type of snake involved, doctors show photos to patients or rely on killed snakes brought in for identification.

 Currently, anti-venom is administered only to those bitten by King Cobras and Kraits, leaving a gap in treatment for other venomous snakebites. The limited availability of anti-venom can be attributed to the lack of research center facilities, said one of the Doctor in Emergency ward.

Bal Krishna, a senior Forestry officer in Sarpang, expressed concern over the increasing cases of snakebites involving venomous species. In Bhutan, there are five species of Kraits and three species of Cobras, predominantly found in the southern regions. Although several cases of snakebites leading to fatalities have occurred, many incidents go unreported, he said.

He said the lack of baseline data and widespread knowledge about local snakes contribute to the challenges faced in understanding and addressing the issue effectively. Factors such as the nature of work, economic status, limited knowledge of local snakes, and lack of awareness on snakebites all play a role in the prevalence of such incidents.

Venomous bites are commonly attributed to Cobras, Kraits, and Vipers, although differentiating between venomous and non-venomous snakes is not always straightforward due to shared characteristics.

 “The preventive measures can include keeping the surroundings clean, using a flashlight while walking in the dark, wearing boots when working outdoors, avoiding contact with snakes, and carefully checking dark areas, even inside the house,” said Bal Krishna. He emphasized the significance of providing education programs to rural communities and medical staff to enhance preventive measures.

The Department of Forests and Park Services, in collaboration with the Ugyen Wangchuk Institute of Forest and Research Training (UNIFORT), has conducted educational awareness programs across eight forest divisions and protected areas in southern Bhutan. Such initiatives aim to equip communities with the necessary knowledge to identify venomous snakes and take appropriate precautions.

While the exact number of snakebite incidents remains unclear, the rising trend calls for immediate action. Strengthening preventive measures, increasing access to anti-venom, and expanding educational awareness programs are crucial steps in reducing the impact of snakebite incidents. By fostering a better understanding of local snakes and their habitats, Bhutan can effectively mitigate the risks associated with snake encounters and ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

The rising number of snakebite cases in Bhutan serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving the delicate balance between humans and wildlife. Through collaborative efforts between government institutions, medical professionals, and the local community, Bhutan can protect its citizens from the dangers of snakebites and pave the way for a safer coexistence with these fascinating creatures of the wild.

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