30 January 2013

Namibia: Zebra Snakes Continue to Torment Villagers

Windhoek — Zebra snakes continue to torment villagers in the north, with over 20 people in the Opuwo area reported to have received treatment for the highly poisonous bite of the snake.

Zebra snakes have always been a problem and are very common in Namibia. It would appear that they are attracted to and thrive in densely populated areas, both urban and rural, when it is very hot and humid.

The snake is quick to bite and unlike that of other snakes, its venom is highly cytotoxic. Between November 06 and December 25 at least 11 people were treated in the hospital at Tsandi after being bitten by zebra snakes. Most of the victims are from the Uukwaluudhi area.

Dr Refanus Kooper of the Opuwo State Hospital in the Kunene Region said all snakebite patients were attended to by competent hospital staff and were treated with polyvalent antivenom. However, the polyvalent antivenom is said to be ineffective in the treatment of zebra snakebites.

The current recommended medical treatment is radical excision around the site of the bite of which severe disfigurement and amputation is a common outcome. Overall treatment is expensive and it often extends over a year.

Fortunately the zebra snake's venom is slow acting, giving victim ample time to seek medical help. Last Wednesday, a three-year-old girl died instantly after she and her grandmother were bitten by a snake, while sleeping in their homestead at Opuwo.

The grandmother was admitted to the Opuwo State Hospital, where she is reported to be in a stable condition. Concerned residents say their neighbourhood and immediate vicinity is swarming with zebra snakes. Nangula Amutenya, a resident of Okuwale village in Uukwaluudhi yesterday told New Era that these aggressive snakes also devour their chickens.

"We tried everything. We killed and buried them, we burned them but they are still slithering into our houses, and attack our poultry within our homes," said Amutenya.

He said the snakes are very dangerous, and pose a greater risk for children who like to play around. In fact, children now have to be monitored constantly in the affected areas.

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