Exotic Snakebites Have Spiked In The UK Over The Last Decade

·2 min read
Image via Getty/CARL DE SOUZA/AFP
Image via Getty/CARL DE SOUZA/AFP

A rise in exotic pet ownership means snakebite injuries are becoming more common in the UK, according to a new study.

Doctors said in a report that in the last 11 years they have seen and treated 300 victims. 72 of the patients were teenagers or children; 13 were under the age of 5. Most of the people who had been bitten did not suffer any major injuries, but some had to be treated in intensive care. One patient needed part of their finger amputating, while a second died due to the bite.

Measuring around 13 feet long, these snakes can rise or “stand up” to reach an adult’s eye level. Snake venom is a neurotoxin that can stop the victim’s breathing and heartbeat.

One man who had been bitten staggered about “as if drunk” and then collapsed afterward, according to eyewitnesses. Despite being given 10 vials of anti-venom by the emergency services, the man died from a cardiac arrest. It’s possible he had an allergic reaction to the anti-venom, doctors in the journal Clinical Toxicology say.

Another man lost part of his finger after he was bitten by one of the most dangerous African snakes, the highly venomous species of Mozambique spitting cobra. Their fangs can spray venom up to 3m, and bites can potentially be lethal. According to The World Health Organisation, there are over 250 venomous snake species—mostly native to Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania—but the UK has three native snake species: the adder, grass snake and smooth snake, of which only the adder is venomous.

Professor David Warrell, from Oxford University, said: “Most of these bites occur to fingers, hands and wrists following deliberate handling interaction by people who keep snakes as part of their occupation or hobby.”

While keeping exotic reptiles as pets is not illegal in the UK, the RSPCA recommends that people research what it entails before purchasing one. The charity says people with a pet python should not handle it “after handling prey as the snake may smell food and try to bite”.