THE hot weather brought on by the El Nino phenomenon is believed to be the reason behind the alarming rise in snake-related incidents in Malaysia this year, especially in densely populated towns and cities.
According to the Health Ministry, the country has recorded some 730 cases of bites from January until April, with one reported fatality so far.
During a press conference yesterday, Health Minister Dr. S. Subramaniam said the highest number of snake bite cases were recorded in the northern states, such as Kedah and Perak, where the temperatures have soared up to 39 degrees Celsius from the average of 33 degrees Celsius.
“This is because reptiles such as snakes would usually emerge from their natural habitat in search of cooler places when the temperature around them increases,” he was quoted saying in The New Straits Times on Wednesday.
Due to the increase of snake-related cases, authorities have issued advisories to the public on how to deal with bites, pointing out that identifying the type of species involved would help in treatment.
They suggested that the best way to do this would be to take a photo of the snake with your mobile phone.
“This will make it easier for the attending doctor to identify the snake and provide the right anti-venom,” Dr. Subramaniam said, adding bite victims must seek immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital instead of attempting self-treatment.
Over 139 hospitals scattered throughout the country provide anti-venom treatment. Earlier this week, Subramaniam gave assurance that the supply of anti-venom the hospital was sufficient.
Malaysia is home to a host of venomous snakes, including the Malayan pit viper, Shore pit viper, Monocled cobra, King cobra, and the Banded krait, among others.
Snake encounters have made dozens of headlines in the country as of late, especially involving cases that occurred in primary schools where mostly young children fell victim to serious venomous bites.
On April 19, an eight-year-old girl Nuri Nadirah Ruslan was reported to have died after being struck by a venomous snake in her school’s compound in Pengkalan Chepa, Kelantan. The death prompted the Education Ministry to review its standard operating procedures regarding safety on school grounds.
Two days later, another eight-year-old girl suddenly collapsed in a school in the state of Negeri Sembilan after a snake bite to her leg. Her peers said they saw a black-colored snake near where the victim had been playing. Fortunately, the SK Chembong student survived the strike after being rushed to a clinic.
In another incident late last month, an 11-year-old girl was bitten at a night market after exhibiting symptoms of a cobra bite, as doctors had to remove dead tissue destroyed by what was suspected to be neurotoxic venom.
The authorities have also recorded soaring numbers of snakes being removed from homes, buildings and residential areas over recent months.
The Malaysian Civil Defense Department recorded a total of 3,780 cases in March and 3,708 cases in February nationwide, while the Fire and Rescue Department recorded 973 cases in March and 899 cases in February nationwide, according to The Star.
Another article in the paper quoted snake venom researcher and conservationist Arun Raveendaran as saying that the snake population in busy areas has increased in the past 10 years, as cities make the most ideal breeding grounds.
“They can breed in drains, rat holes, rubbish dumps and underneath houses. Market areas are the best because the high rat population provides a large food source,” he said.
Explaining the cycle, Arun said told the paper that food waste would attract rats which in turn attracted snakes.
“This explains why there is a possibility for snakes to thrive better in cities than in the wild.”