PNG’s venomous snakes

Papua New Guinea has many venomous snakes, but the majority only present minimum risk to humans.

The major burden of serious envenoming however, is caused by jut five species:

Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus), New Guinea death adders (Acanthophis laevis & Acanthophis rugosus), New Guinea death adders (Acanthophis laevis & Acanthophis rugosus), New Guinea brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) and Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus).

Yearly, based on research and statistical analysis, Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre estimates 1000 deaths due to snakebite.

But it is difficult to ascertain an accurate figure, according to Diana Barr, Technical Support Officer with Australian Venom Research Unit (CCTC), as snakebites in PNG is not a reportable disease.

“It is difficult to ascertain an accurate figure due to lack of records from health centres and hospitals. Many of the victims never even reach a health centre,” she says.

She adds that for several months now, there has been a critical shortage of anti-venoms in rural health centres in PNG.

“Many centres do not have old chain facilities (refrigerators) and so cannot store their own supply of anti-venom. Those that do, and would normally administer it to patients themselves, have been unable to do so. Instead, they have been forced to send their patients to Port Moresby General Hospital, to our snake bite clinic.

“This delays administration of anti-venom often by several hours, in addition to the several hours that probably lapsed between the person being bitten and presenting at the health centre.

“This delay results in the patients’ requiring intubation, artificial respiration and a week in hospital. If it weren’t for our fully-equipped dedicated snakebite ambulance, which meets inbound patients and has the capacity to intubate them and administer the anti-venom on the roadside, many of the patients would not have made it to the hospital alive.”

This is a three-part article. Watch out for the next related article on Loop PNG Lifestyle.

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Gloria Bauai