Snake venom is the cause of many injuries and deaths to humans each year. The affect that snake venom has on the human body varies based on the species of snake and the type and amount of venom that is injected. Each species of snake injects a different venom and knowing the type of snake involved in a snakebite incident can be vital in saving a person’s life.
How does snake venom affect the human body?
Snake venom falls into four categories, Hemotoxic venom, Cytotoxic venom, Proteolytic venom and Neurotoxic venom. Each of these venom types target different systems within the body and cause different symptoms. All of these types of venom will need treatment to deactivate the affects.
Hemotoxic venom attacks and damages red blood cells. This disrupts the body’s ability to clot blood and causes widespread damage to organs and tissue. The most obvious damage is done to the heart and cardiovascular system which pumps the venom around the body. Hemotoxic venom causes intense pain and will eventually result in death if not treated. In some cases the bitten limb is lost or needs to be amputated due to damage caused by the venom. Pit vipers are an example of the snakes that employ this type of venom. Hemotoxic venom does not cause instant onset of symptoms in humans. It may take up to a couple of hours before a human begins to experience nausea, disorientation and headache.
Cytotoxic venom attacks the cells of the body. There are a number of reactions that cells may undergo when injected with cytotixic venom. The cells may begin to suffer necrosis where the cell membranes fail and the cells die quickly. The cells may stop growing and multiplying or they can activate a genetic process in which the cells simply die. The symptoms in humans tend to be extreme swelling at the site of the bite. In extreme cases the area may bleed and blister causing death of the surrounding tissue.
Proteolytic venom causes the molecular structure of the cells in the surrounding area to breakdown. It disintegrates proteins which are the building blocks of cells. Proteolytic venoms break down the muscle tissue in the area surrounding the bite.
Neurotoxic Venom attacks the nervous system and the brain. The venom disrupts the normal function of the nervous system causing the death of neutrons. The most common symptoms in humans include limb weakness or numbness, loss of memory, vision, headache and paralysis.
Did you know?
The venom of proteroglyphous snakes such as the sea snake, mambas, king cobra, red-bellied black snake, tiger snake and death adders usually affect the nervous system. They cause respiratory paralysis and are deadly to humans.
The venom of vipers causes the blood to coagulate and clot in the main artery to the heart. Once bitten the area surrounding the bite swells, becomes discolored and is extremely painful. Within a few hours the victim will begin to vomit. The blood pressure drops and the pulse becomes weak and erratic. If a person survives through these stages including the severe drop in blood pressure they may survive the snake bite. Very toxic vipers require immediate attention or death will occur.
Rear fanged snakes such as boomslangs and vine snakes have venom that destroys blood cells and thins the blood. The early symptoms of a bite from a rear fanged snake include headaches, nausea, diarrhea, lethargy, mental disorientation, bruising and bleeding at the site and from all body openings. Most commonly death is caused by internal bleeding and hemorrhage.