The best anti-venom would be not getting bit at all

A lot of visitors worry about snakes in the jungle. They might be surprised to know that many snakes live in the city and go about their daily lives without causing any trouble.

Nearly every overgrown vacant lot probably has some slithery inhabitants. The truth is that these creatures get along well with humans. Riding a motorcycle or even playing golf as a storm approaches is more dangerous.

Workers at the famed Instituto Clodomiro Picado Twight say there are only one or two deaths a year in Costa Rica from snakes. They ought to know because the institute is where the anti-venom is prepared.

The institute reports there are about 600 cases of snakebite each year, and lists 23 species of poisonous snakes that live here.

Snakebites are in the news because the World Health Organization announced it is trying to stimulate the production of anti-venoms worldwide by making technical changes in the approval process.

For a number of years World Health has attempted to raise the alarm on the public health challenge of snake bites and the dearth of effective anti-venoms on the market, compounded by the lack of donor support to make these products available through international procurement mechanisms, the organization said.

World Health says about 5 million persons are bitten by snakes each year and there are about 125,000 deaths.

In Costa Rica probably the best tip for expats is to avoid walking in the dark in sandals or barefoot. A British Colombia tourist did just that on a beach in Quepos in March 2013 and thought he was attacked by an ant.

Instead, it was a fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper), called a terciopelo or barba amarilla in Spanish. Somehow the 61-year-old man managed to survive a plane trip home where he was saved at the brink of death by a medical team in Vancouver, Canada.

The Instituto Clodomiro suggests high rubber or leather boots for persons hiking in snake-infested areas, which could be just about anywhere. Some tourist guides have reported seeing snakes sunning themselves.

on paths through forest reserves

The institute is named after the famous 20th century biologist, professor and lab chief at  Hospital San Juan de Dios.

About every month the security ministry is asked to send a plane into the high Talamancas to transport a snakebite victim. The culprit usually is a fer-de-lance.

The British Columbia man was lucky. There also are bushmasters (Lachesis stenophrys) in the Quepos area. They are called in Spanish matabuey because their venom will do just that, kill an ox.

The Instituto Clodomiro also urges humans to stay away from snakes if the creatures are seen. A small group of expat hobbyists do not follow that instruction, and they frequently go snake watching in areas of the Central Valley. The institute also warns that snakes are protected by law.

Some other sensible cautions include not putting hands into areas where snakes might lurk and trying to control rodents, said the institute. Snakes feed on rodents, and the more rodents, the more snakes, the institute notes.

And it also urges instructing children on how to avoid snakebite. Expats also have to worry about protecting pets. Some dogs will challenge snakes, and some little dogs look a lot like yummy rodents.

All snakes are not dangerous. There even is a species here that eats other snakes, the zopilota (Clelia clelia).  Fuerza Pública officers get several calls a month to remove constrictors from city properties.

They are not dangerous except to rats and other small mammals. Yet most homeowners do not want to see them hanging around, and that is exactly what they do when the rodent population is diminished.

Some agricultural occupations expose workers to snakebite. That is one reason sugarcane fields are burned before harvest. That clears the weed growth so workers do not stumble into snakes.

That blue plastic coverings on banana stems do more than protect the fruit from insects and birds. The plastic also protects the workers from being surprised by snakes that otherwise could have crawled into the bunches.snake100215


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