Harmattan can be characterised by very dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, blowing from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea and can be noticed in Nigeria and other West Africa countries. This period can last between the end of November until the middle of March.

Now asides the health hazard and discomfort caused by our end of the year visitor, one creature most of us dread adds salt to injury. A creature that makes women scream and men cringe, not just because of how it looks but because of what it’s capable of: snakes. And this season drives these crawlers into our path, worst still, into our home.

A snake’s bite if not treated immediately becomes extremely lethal due to their venom. It has become a significant health issue in rural communities of Nigeria and other tropical parts as snake invasion has become a significant cause of mortality and morbidity.

It is estimated that over 10,000 people are bitten by snakes per year, in Nigeria alone, although the exact death toll hasn’t yet been recorded, and according to official records, only 8.5 per cent of snakebite victims visit the hospitals. Snake bites happen more often when people were farming, walking or herding.

The World Health Organization estimated about 100, 000 deaths per year connected to snake bites, and three times that number of people amputated, including permanent disabilities.

Some of the significant features of snake bites include;

  1. Necrosis (death of cells and tissue due to injury)
  2. Bleeding
  3. Shock
  4. Swelling
  5. Haemorrhage
  6. Blindness
  7. Disability
  8. Amputation of the affected body part if not immediately attended to

Antivenom, according to studies, contributes chiefly to envenoming management while a study in Nigeria shows its protection of more than 80 per cent against mortality, especially from carpet-viper bites. However, the distribution, availability, and use of antivenom remain a challenge.

PREMIUM TIMES published a report last year by the News Agency of Nigeria concerning the havoc snake bites caused in Gombe and Plateau states, aggravated by the scarcity of snake anti-venom drugs in the country.

Mr Fatai Oyediran of the department of public health, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, however, disputed the report. Saying that, they had 3600 snake bites cases in general and that the total mortality for last year alone was around 103 not just in Gombe and Plateau state, but for the whole country, even though Gombe recorded the highest snake bites cases.

When asked what measures are being taken by relevant health agencies to tackle snake bite cases during this year’s harmattan season, he said: “anti-venom is the first item” on the budget list.

Mr Oyediran added that “Usually, we make provisions for about 5500 anti-venom and we have provisions for this year (2018) up to 2021.”

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How to keep snakes away from your environment?

Due to the biting heat of harmattan, snakes like humans would do all it takes to find refuge in cooler climates, lest they stand the chance of overheating that may result in their death. Therefore, the possibility of running into snakes as they scramble for safety from excess heat is very high.

Snakes prefer to stay in shady places that accommodate and provide food, moisture, darkness, coolness and cover. In order to get rid of them, you have to make sure these things aren’t provided for them. This means, you would have to take some steps to deprive accommodation in your home and make staying as unbearable as possible, and some of these steps include;

  1. Cutting the grass around you short. Snakes can’t stand being exposed and would do anything to avoid open, highly-visible areas.
  2. Monitor your home by giving special attention to gaps around the corners of the house and seal cracks that may allow strange creatures in, especially from the windows, toilet and kitchen.
  3. Fumigate your house to expel snakes.
  4. Don’t open your front doors or leave your windows open for too long during harmattan period because some snakes can stretch long enough to pass through without making the least noise.
  5. Make sure to check under the tree that provides shades for you before sitting or lying down. Snakes equally like spots like this and may attack at the slight provocation. Ignorance isn’t an excuse.
  6. Make sure to check inside your shoes before putting your feet into them.
  7. If you must unwind or chill, door it indoor especially in the evenings.

What to do if you get bitten by a snake?

  1. Administer analgesic for local pain to help calm effects of snake bites.
  2. Wipe the affected area and ensure not to incise, because incisions may aggravate bleeding.
  3. Do away with anything tight from around the bitten area.
  4. Do not try traditional first aid methods or herbal medications and other unorthodox or unsafe ways.
  5. Move the person bitten to a health facility as quickly as possible.
  6. The bitten person may experience vomiting, so it is essential to place the person on their left side, so they assume the recovery position.
  7. Monitor the person’s airway and breathing, in case you need to resuscitate if necessary.
  8. The snake should be identified in order to identify if it is venomous or not and to also know the kind of anti-poison to administer.
  9. The body or the person bitten should be moved as little as possible during transit, to reduce the spread of venom.


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