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Global warming, climate change may lead to more snake bites, finds research

snake bites

HQ Team

July 17, 2023: Researchers at Emory University, Georgia, say that the rising temperatures will see a jump in snake bites. Their study shows that each degree Celsius rise in temperature leads to nearly a 6 percent increase in snake bites, on average.

Emory University researchers have found there is a significant jump in the likelihood of being bitten by a snake for every degree Celsius that daily temperatures increase.

The team studied the emergency department visits from snake bites from 2014 to 2020. In this period, there were more than 5,000 hospitalizations due to snake bites, including 3,908 reported venomous snake bites. They compared this data to the minimum and maximum temperatures, air pressure, and humidity on the dates the bites occurred.  They then took into account the temperature on other days to account for human activity variables.

“An increase in odds of snake bite by 6% per degrees Celsius is a strong effect and is certainly higher than what we often see from other types of health outcomes that are linked to heat,” says Noah Scovronick, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and the study’s lead author. “Our results show that we need to spend more effort understanding the potential health burdens from snakebite in the context of climate change. The large temperature effects we found, combined with the fact that snakebites often affect populations without access to adequate health care – particularly in other parts of the world – indicates that rising temperatures is a reason for concern.

“As a research group, we are regularly investigating how weather and climate affect human health,” Scovronick added. “And snake bite is a health issue that really causes a surprisingly large health burden globally and one that is very well known to be understudied.”

Cold-blooded animals

The World Health Organization(WHO) classifies snakebite as a neglected tropical disease. The organization estimates about 5.4 million people worldwide are bitten by snakes every year, and of those, approximately 138,000 die.

Snakes are cold-blooded animals, hence, temperatures play a part in their internal body temperatures. Not much is known about how it affects their activities and human interactions during weather changes.

The Emory study also took into account hospitalizations due to other venomous creatures, such as spiders, scorpions and wasps, in order to better understand how much human behavior may have contributed to the increase of snakebites.

“It might have been that snakes are just doing the same thing every day and people just tend to go outside more and hike or work in their garden more when the weather is warmer,” Scovronick says. “But we found that the temperature effect for snakebite was higher than for the other types of envenomation, which suggests that there may be something unique about snake behavior that is contributing to the association with snakebite and temperature.”

Georgia is home to 45 snake species, including 17 venomous ones.“We already know a lot about how snakes respond to changes in weather and climate. They are cold-blooded, so outdoor temperatures are a strong driver of their internal body temperatures, and therefore their daily activities. But we know much less about how climate and weather in particular – meaning short-term changes in meteorology – drive those human-snake interactions,” Scovronick says.

The findings are published in GeoHealth.

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