QUITO – Quick action can save the life of someone bitten by a poisonous snake, but in some remote areas of Ecuador it can take six to seven hours to get medical attention and that, unfortunately, can lead to amputation and even death.
This Andean country, which imports snakebite serums from countries like Costa Rica and Colombia, has an average of 9,000 to 10,000 snakebites a year, of which some 16 percent of cases end in death or have serious consequences like mutilation, according to figures of the Gustavo Orces Herpetological Foundation.
“That’s what we want to avoid, and that’s where we have our work cut out for us. What we contribute is knowledge about the biology of those animals: how they live, what they eat, what are the chances they’ll bite you” and, for example, whether the venom damages blood circulation or the nervous system, the foundation’s director, biologist Elena Barragan, told EFE.
There have been dramatic situations in which the people bitten, either because they were uninformed or just terrified, have chosen “to amputate a finger with a machete, which causes a hemorrhage or gives them tetanus,” while in other cases “they bleed to death” on their way to the hospital, or they swallow gasoline or diesel fuel in a desperate attempt to save their lives, she said.
In Ecuador one assumes that doctors are trained to deal with snakebite emergencies, but they need very special preparation, said the director of the foundation, where 15 professionals including biologists, veterinarians and biochemists are on a mission to improve the training for, and treatment of, these cases.
The foundation, which is financed by a vivarium that exhibits amphibians and reptiles to the public, and by projects funded by international cooperation organizations, was founded 25 years ago and today “still has a long way to go,” said Barragan, who seeks the collaboration of local and foreign universities on anthropological, biological and veterinary research studies.
One of the most important projects, according to Barragan, is the recent publication of the book “Poisonous Snakes of Ecuador,” a compendium of all the information possessed by the Gustavo Orces Herpetological Foundation, and which is currently being distributed among indigenous communities, national park personnel, emergency services and authorities of the Health and Tourism Ministries.