Cape Town’s snake season has arrived, beware. Picture: Supplied
Cape Town’s snake season has arrived, beware. Picture: Supplied

Snakebite season slowly slithering in as hot temperatures pick up

By Murphy Nganga Time of article published Oct 23, 2021

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Cape Town - With Cape Town centred around mountains, the increase in hot temperatures is slowly slithering in the snakebite season, with more snake bites recorded between October and April.

According to Herpetologist and African Snakebite Institute CEO, Johan Marais, the temperature rise in spring makes snakes become more active because of how they are built, leading to them resurfacing during warm weathers.

“Snakes are ectotherms – often called cold blooded. They get their heat and energy from their environment and in winter it is too cold for most snakes and they go into a state of torpor or inactivity. As the temperature rises in spring they become more and more active. We see few snakes in winter but in summer they are active. Subsequently most snakebites are recorded in the warm months of the year and additionally, it is important to remember that snakes are not susceptible to Covid - 19,” said Marais.

In a recent statement released by the Western Cape Health Department, the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape (PIHWC), said that during a five-year period (June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2020), the PIHWC received about 1 411 calls regarding snakebites, as most snakes found in South Africa are harmless and beneficial to the ecosystem.

Willem Van Zyl from Blouberg Snake Rescue said that deaths from snakebite are rare in South Africa with only about 12 people dying from snake bites per year.

“There are several harmless species in the area, but unless you've had the relevant training, you should not try to identify them yourself, it's best to leave any snakes you encounter alone. As long as you maintain a distance of five meters from any snakes you see, you'll be safe - they're not aggressive, they don't chase people, and if given the opportunity they'll just try to get away.

“Around the Cape Town area, the most common venomous snakes to look out for are the Cape Cobra, Puff Adder, and Boomslang. The Mole Snake should also not be taken lightly - they're not venomous but they can deliver a painful bite that may require stitches.”

“Cape Cobras have a predominantly neurotoxic venom that causes gradual paralysis, Puff Adders have a cytotoxic venom that causes tissue damage, and Boomslang have a haemotoxic venom that causes bleeding issues. With any snakebite incident it's best to get to a hospital ASAP, the amount of time it takes before symptoms present can differ based on the person's age, the snake species, etc,” said Van Zyl.

Director of the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre, Dr Carine Marks advised in a statement that before leaving for a hike, climbing, mountain biking or camping trip, one should find out where the nearest medical facility is and note the telephone number just in the case of a snakebite, so that patient may get to a medical facility in time.

Van Zyl advised that in case of a snake bite, the best thing to do is keep the patient calm and get them to the nearest hospital with a trauma unit as soon as possible.

“One should not cut / suck / tie off the bite wound, don't give the person anything to eat or drink, and don't try to capture the snake to take it along.

“The doctors will be able to decide on a course of treatment without needing to see the snake. It's a good idea to call the hospital and tell them which route you're going to take so they can send an ambulance to meet you partway, halving your travel time.

“If possible, you can take a photo of the snake with your cellphone from a distance - without trying to capture it. You should also call Johan Marais on 082 494 2039 - he will be able to help the doctors identify the species and correct the course of treatment based on the symptoms,” said Van Zyl.

Weekend Argus

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