Half of all snakebite cases in the world from India, finds study

ICMR finds only 30% of snakebite victims in rural India reach hospital

By Dayanidhi
Published: Monday 29 August 2022
There is a paucity of data on snakebites in India for policymaking, said the reseachers of the study. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Almost half of all global deaths due to venomous snakes happen in India, a study has found. Just 30 per cent of those bit by the reptiles go to hospitals to seek medical treatment. 

A study-protocol on the incidence, mortality, morbidity and socioeconomic burden of snakebites in the country has been released by Indian Council of Medical Research. ICMR is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research. 

Snakebites kill more than 46,000 people in India every year. They are probably the most ‘neglected tropical disease’, according to Study Protocols for Knowing the Incidence of Snakebites. Hospital-based data on snakebite admissions and anti-snake venom use have been underestimated, it stated. 

Read more: Recent study on kraits shows great lacunae on snake venom research in India

Most victims in rural India are more dependent on alternative treatment methods, which are not recorded in national registries. 

The world’s largest study of the causes and correlates of mortality in India has undertaken by the Registrar General of India (RGI). The study, called the Million Death Study (MDS) in India, is implemented in close collaboration with the Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto, leading Indian and overseas academic institutions and ICMR. 

RGI-MDS conducted the first snakebite study in India and focused on the incidence of snakebites in five regions of India and 13 states. 

Around 46,900 people die due to venomous snakebites in India annually. These numbers are colossal, especially when compared with countries like the United States and Australia, which report 10 to 12 deaths each year due to venomous snakebites. Even though Australia is less populated, it has a larger number of venomous snakes. 

Only 20 to 30 per cent of snakebite victims in rural India seek treatment in hospitals, the study has suggested. The low incidence of snakebites and the paucity of data on mortality and socioeconomic burden make it difficult to understand the true impact of the condition, it noted. 

Over 84 million people live in the studied areas, covering states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Tripura. 

Cases and deaths related to snakebite 2016-20


Snakebite cases

















Source: National Health Profile

The article has been published in the international research journal PLOS ONE. The study is led by researcher Dr Jaideep C Menon from preventive cardiology and population health sciences at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Center and Dr Omesh Bharti, state epidemiologist, department of health and family welfare, Himachal Pradesh government.

Read more: Snakebite: Researchers purify commercial Indian antivenoms, find them more potent

The study will  release real data on snakebite cases, mortality, the number of deaths and the socioeconomic burden of snakebites for the first time in the country, said Dr Bharti. This will help policymakers to prevent and control snakebites in India.

“The country still does not know the actual snakebite burden, so there is a paucity of data when it comes to policymaking,” the doctor said. This is the first such study to survey snakebite cases in Southeast Asia, the researchers said.

Sri Lanka carried out a similar survey but covered only 1 per cent of the population, whereas India’s study covered 6.12 per cent of the population.

Snakebite case studies are being conducted in 31 districts across six geographical regions of the country: West, Central, South, East, North and North-East. Three districts of Himachal Pradesh — Kangra, Chamba and Una are also included.

The only data on snakebites available in India is the mortality data from the RGI-MDS study (Registrar General of India — 1 Million Deaths Study) and another study on mortality from Bihar. Only two districts’ data on snakebites are available in West Bengal.

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