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WHO Launches Snake Venom Website

A snake charmer shows a cobra to fetch money from devotees during Manasa festival at Chakdah-Khedaitola, 63 miles north of Calcutta, India Saturday Aug. 17, 2002.
AP Photo/Bikas Das
The World Health Organization launched a website Tuesday it hopes will help cut the estimated 100,000 deaths caused annually by snake poison.

The site contains a database of approved antivenoms to treat the 2.5 million people who suffer venomous bites each year, the U.N. health agency said.

Antivenoms - antidotes developed from the venom itself - can prevent disability or death, but WHO says many are inappropriate and have led to a loss of confidence among doctors and patients, especially in tropical and subtropical countries.

"The regions that are most in need are Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia," said Ana Padilla, a snake venom expert at WHO.

Apart from South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, most Sub-Saharan African countries lack the necessary labs to identify snake poisons and to produce sufficient amounts of antivenom, she said.

In Asia, the greatest needs are in Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Laos, said Padilla.

"The Americas are in a much better situation," she said, noting that even poorer countries in Latin America have their own labs.

WHO's coordinator for medicine safety, Dr. Lembit Rago, said most deaths and serious consequences from snake bites such as paralysis or amputation are preventable if the proper antivenom is administered in time.

A 2008 WHO study estimated that at least 421,000 envenomings and 20,000 deaths occur worldwide from snakebite each year, but warns that these figures may be even higher - as many as 1,841,000 envenomings and 94,000 deaths.

The primary snake groups responsible are the elapids (cobras, kraits, mambas etc.) and vipers, and in some regions sea snakes.

For more info:
WHO's Snake Antivenom Website