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Health Minister warns against 'cowboy' snake-bite remedies

By Gyasi Gonzales gyasi.gonzales@trinidadexpress.com

Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said yesterday that his Ministry was planning to have antidotes for poisonous snake bites available in hospitals other than Sangre Grande.

Khan was speaking to the Express via telephone following reports that a 12-year-old Tabaquite pupil girl had been bitten by a snake while using the restroom at the Sister's Road Anglican School near Tabaquite last Friday.

The girl, Michelle Davis, remained in stable condition at the San Fernando General Hospital up to last night.

The Express also consulted with Dr Adana Mahase-Gibson, a veterinarian who has worked with hunting dogs that were bitten by snakes.

The Express asked both Khan and Mahase-Gibson what people could do if bitten by poisonous snakes.

Khan advised that one ought not to get snake-bite remedies from Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or any other Western actor that depict venom being sucked out of the wound.

"No, no, no," said Khan.

Mahase-Gibson echoed his advice, but added that the effect venomous snakes would have on humans and canines would be almost the same.

She advised that the victim remain calm, not apply ice to the wound and remove as much constricting clothing and jewelry as possible to allow him/her to breathe properly.

The Minister advised, however, that if even remotely possible, "try to find out which snake bit you," as he said this would help the caregivers to determine what course of treatment may be best.

He said that after being bitten by a snake, one should head to the nearest hospital immediately. He explained that Sangre Grande District Hospital had snake bite antidotes because of its location near the Northern Range, where the majority of Trinidad's poisonous snakes are found.

Khan added, however, that in the rare event that one is bitten by a poisonous snake in South or Central Trinidad the antidotes would be brought from Sangre Grande to wherever the patient is.

Trinidad and Tobago has four species of venomous snakes.

All four can kill.

They are two species of the mapepire and two species of the coral snake. The coral snake is brightly coloured with either red, white and black, or orange, white and black.

According to Mahase-Gibson, "When the coral snake delivers its venom on a human there is little or no pain but one begins to experience muscular incoordination, difficulty swallowing and then respiratory distress."

She said the snake has a small mouth and fixed fangs which make it difficult to deliver its venom on the average-sized man or woman.

Khan agreed.

He said the coral was a small snake that would usually only bite someone on the webbings of hands and feet because of its small mouth.

The mapepire, also known as the bushmaster, is from the viper family. There are two species of this reptile as well and can be identified by diamond-shaped marks on their back. They are black and light brown or dark-brown in colour, making them practically invisible on the forest floor. These snakes are bigger than the coral.

Mahase-Gibson explained that the effects of a mapepire bite would be intense pain in the area of the bite.

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