In West Africa, Snakebites Are As Deadly As Other Neglected Tropical Diseases

Saw-scaled viper. reptiles4all/shutterstock
Janet Fang 28 Sep 2015, 16:09

In West Africa, bites from venomous snakes such as cobras and carpet vipers are as deadly as other more widely recognized, yet still neglected, tropical diseases including Leishmaniasis. In addition to causing thousands of deaths a year, snakebites result in even more amputations a year. The findings were published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases this week. 

Snakebite envenoming is a major public health problem in rural areas of West Africa, especially among communities living in the savanna region of Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. Compared to other neglected tropical diseases, this public health burden hasn’t been well characterized – and is likely grossly underestimated. 

A team led by Abdulrazaq Habib from Bayero University in Nigeria wanted to calculate the impact of snakebite mortality as well as morbidity (or the incidence of disease) for 16 West African countries. They used a metric known as Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), which is the sum of two components: years of life lost and years lived with disability. The annual number of snakebite deaths and the average age at the time of the bites were used to estimate years of life lost; years of life lived with disability is a factor of the number of amputations necessary.  

After analyzing decades of records, the team found there to be 319,874 DALYs every year in West Africa because of snakebites. Nigeria accounted for the highest burden with 43%. That’s a result of 1,927 deaths and 2,368 amputations. At 0.5%, Guinea-Bissau accounted for the least burden: 24 deaths and 28 amputations. 

These estimates are similar – and in some cases even higher – than that of other neglected tropical diseases encountered in West Africa: Buruli ulcer, Echinococcosis, Intestinal Nematode Infections, Leishmaniasis, Onchocerchiasis, Trachoma, and Trypanosomiasis. 

Meanwhile, stockpiles of the most effective anti-venom are expected to run out by June next year, as the only company that makes it has stopped production. 

[H/T: Science]

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