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The other day, I opened the cupboard, and to my shock, a cobra was curled up in there! I had the presence of mind to shut the cupboard door on it. Thereafter, I quickly called the fire department to remove it. A cobra’s bite is very poisonous, right?

Yes. There are three types of poisonous snakes in Malaysia: the cobra, the pit viper and the sea snake.

There are plenty of other poisonous snakes in the world, especially in Australia. But only these three are poisonous in Malaysia.

Cobras can be recognised by their famous and unmistakable hoods, which flare when they are agitated. The hood is actually an extension of the ribs behind their heads.

Pit vipers can be identified by their pits, which are located between their eyes and nostrils. These pits are temperature receptors, which can sense the body temperature of their prey.

So yes, a viper can sense you when you are close.

Not all vipers are pit vipers, however.

Sea snakes can swim and are usually difficult to identify because they are under water a lot of time. In fact, they can hold their breath for up to an hour under water.

Their tails are flat to allow swimming, and they are from the cobra family. They are extremely poisonous. If you see a snake swimming in the water, get out immediately!

I would advise you not to spend too much time trying to identify a snake to see if it is poisonous however, if you find one in your house.

It’s best to just move slowly away and call the proper authorities to remove them from your home.

Be on the lookout for snakes as well when you are hiking in the jungle, or camping or doing any outdoor activities.

What happens when a poisonous snake bites me?

Snake bites, sea snakes, poisonous snakes, Star2.com

Snakebite venom contains proteins that are very toxic to the human body. These proteins can be divided into cytotoxins, haemotoxins, neurotoxins and cardiotoxins.

It depends on what type of poisonous snake it is. Doctors in the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department are trained to help identify what sort of snake it was that bit you in order to administer the appropriate anti-venom.

When a snake bites you, there is usually the presence of two fang marks at the bite site. Unlike human teeth, the fangs have ducts in them that contain venom from a gland.

The most common feeling you may have from snakebites is a sense of overwhelming fear. This may lead to nausea, vomiting, a very high pulse rate, fainting and cold, clammy skin.

This is in large part due to stories, TV, media and all the hype surrounding snakes!

Not all poisonous snake bites result in venom injection from their fangs. But when they do, there is redness, pain and swelling at the bite site, which may take up to an hour to appear.

Bites from cobras and vipers are extremely painful, and the inflammation may appear very quickly – within five minutes.

The bite area may also bleed and blister, and this can lead to tissue death. The bites from vipers, in particular, cause bleeding.

These are all called “local effects”, meaning effects that occur on the body site or area of the bite.

If a non-poisonous snake bites me, I will be OK, right?

Not necessarily. Even when a poisonous snake bites you and does not inject venom, it can cause tissue injury and infection. This is called a dry snakebite (which are up to 50% of all snake bites).

Same for a non-poisonous snake.The snake’s fangs may harbour a lot of bacteria, and this can lead to infection, including with the microorganism causing tetanus.

Moreover, if you are allergic to snakebites, you can go into anaphylaxis, which can result in severe shock and your body’s organs shutting down.

Are ‘local effects’ all I will get from the snakebite?

Unfortunately, no. The snakebite venom contains proteins that are very toxic to the human body.

These proteins can be divided into:

• Cytotoxin – this causes local tissue damage.

• Haemotoxin – the very name means a toxin that causes bleeding. This not only result in bleeding from the bite site, but also internal bleeding in your body.

• Neurotoxin – this one affects your entire nervous system and can lead to paralysis.

• Cardiotoxin – this one affects your heart.

Help! I have been bitten by a snake and I don’t know what snake it is. I happened to step on it when I was out running in the jungle. What do I do?

Snake bites, sea snakes, poisonous snakes, cobra, Star2.com

Cobras can be recognised by their famous and unmistakable hoods, which flare when they are agitated. The hood is actually an extension of the ribs behind their heads.

Are you alone? You will need help to go to a hospital as soon as possible, so flag down a passer-by and ask for assistance.

Don’t try to catch the snake in order to identify it!

If you can’t find anyone immediately, you still have to try to get help.

Do not try sucking on the bite yourself or allowing anyone else to try to suck the venom out.

Do not attempt to cut out the area of the bite either.

These actions will result in more infection and can damage your underlying organs. They will not remove the venom either.

Also, do not use ice or tourniquets. Tourniquets are not effective and can lose you a limb.

Do not pour alcohol on the bite.

Do take off any constricting jewellery, such as bracelets or rings.

Try not to use the affected limb to delay spread of the venom.

Part two of this article will appear in a fortnight. Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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