Snakebites deadly as other diseases in West Africa
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Snakebites deadly as other diseases in West Africa

West Africa was under the media spotlight this year—and rightly so after nearly 11,000 people died in the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. But although the disease flickers in and out of the public consciousness, a new study shows that another killer was nearly as deadly: snakebites. The study, published 23 September in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, found that more than 4000 people die every year in the same region because of bites from venomous snakes. In addition to raw mortality, snakebites result in more than 5000 amputations every year, filling up to 10% of hospital beds in some regions. The new findings are based on an analysis of medical literature spanning 40 years. Researchers used the data to calculate the number of years lost due to ill health, disability, or early death—a proxy for estimating total disease burden—and found that 320,000 disability-adjusted life years are lost annually in West Africa as a result of snake bites. That number exceeds estimates for other tropical diseases, such as nematode infection and trypanosomiasis, which often receive more attention. The authors point out that antivenom—which is now in extremely short supply—is effective for both treating and preventing snakebites and advocate for funding proportional to the high burden.