Guidelines for the Prevention and Clinical Management of Snakebite in Africa

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The Guidelines for the prevention and clinical management of snakebite in Africa have been developed by WHO/AFRO with contributions from technical experts. They are meant to assist health workers to improve medical care for snakebite victims; they also serve as a source of information for the general public on issues related to snakes and snakebite.

The guidelines discuss snakes, snake venoms and snakebites and their consequences with emphasis on the medically important snakes i.e. those causing serious envenoming. The volume contains over a hundred snake photographs, clinical signs of envenoming and the consequences. The guidelines also feature various annexes and in particular the geographical distribution of African venomous snakes, as well as their classification, habitats and clinical toxinology.

Snakebite is a neglected public health problem. Rural populations are frequent victims as they go about their daily food production and animal rearing activities and as they reside in the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, many of these snakebite cases go unreported and thus do not appear in official epidemiological statistics. Health workers often have little or no formal training in the management of snakebite, and appropriate antivenom is rarely available.

The document is divided into fifteen chapters:

  • Chapters 1, 2 and 3 introduce the subject, outline the morphological characteristics of African venomous snakes, present the distribution of African venomous snakes and provide epidemiological data on snakebite.
  • Chapter 4 is specifically devoted to prevention of snakebite.
  • Chapters 5, 6 and 7 discuss snake venoms as well as clinical features and profiles of envenoming by some snakes of medical importance.
  • Chapters 8 and 9 outline the main clinical syndromes of envenoming in Africa and provide guidance to clinical assessment and diagnosis.
  • Chapter 10 provides information on antivenoms and major suppliers of antivenoms.
  • Chapters 11 and 12 discuss first aid and emergency clinical management of snakebite.
  • Chapters 13, 14 and 15 discuss procedures for antivenom treatment and management of snakebite at community level and different health-care facilities as well as ancillary treatments.

The guidelines are designed to provide useful information and guide the work of various levels of health workers in dealing with snakes and snakebite. Some sections provide useful and easily understood information for the general public on topics such as snake characteristics and distribution, prevention of snakebite, first aid in case of snakebite, easily observable venom effects in a snakebite victim, and what not to do in case of snakebite