Thursday, October 21, 2010

Singapore Pythons and Snakebites

AsiaOne is reporting a story (October 20, 2010) that describes the presence of two pythons in the past few days in Bendemeer and Tanjong Pagar, alarming passers-by such as information- technology executive C. H. Seah. Last Saturday, the 42-year-old noticed a group of construction workers causing a commotion at a canal in Bendemeer's St George Lane, and so walked up to take a closer look. To his shock, he discovered that they were crowding around a 4m-long python. He sent a photograph of the reptile to citizen-journalism website Stomp. Another python was spotted yesterday outside Tanjong Pagar's Bestway Building in Prince Edward Road. The frightened animal almost bit a man who tried to catch it. Mr Biswajit Guha, Director of Zoology at the Singapore Zoo, advised the public to avoid approaching wild snakes, especially if they appear to be weak, injured or disoriented.

The Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) take the urbanized snakes and put them in quarantine and do health evaluations, some may be micro-chipped, rehabilitated and released back into the wild. WRS has received 127 snakes so far this year, including those confiscated by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority. "Snakes prefer thickly planted areas or quiet dark corners," Mr Guha said. "It would be best to keep residential and public areas clear of clutter so that there are no hiding places for them." A spokesperson for Animal Concerns Research and Education Society the society receives about 60 calls each month about snake sightings.

Singapore pythons are of course Broghammerus reticulatus, a species that has become adapted to urbanized environments, living in drains and sewers, feeding on other human commensals. Pythons are apparently a very minor medical hazard to Singapore residents. (Tan 2010) reported  four python bites that were treated in a Singapore hospital over 5 years. The need for surgical intervention in python bites is usually minimal with drainage of abscess and wound debridement for necrotic tissues. However, over the 5 year study period 35 definite snake bites were reported, and the hospital saw another 17 patients that were suspected of sustaining snake bites. None of the bites were from captive snakes, but five bites were sustained while the person was attempting to capture the snake. Most of the snakebites documented showed pain and swelling. Systemic manifestations were generally mild and not all the symptoms are due to systemic envenomation. There were a number of cases of definite and probable snakebites where there was minimal local injury and no systemic effects despite the presence of fang marks (7/26 or 27%). These could be cases of dry bites or bites by a non-venomous snake. Dry bites occur when there is no envenomation despite actual bite by a venomous snake. None of the people who presented with snakebite over the five year period died, and most recovered without additional problems. The island nation is very well developed, but despite the small amount of available habitat the island supports three species of pit vipers, seven species of terrestrial elapids, eleven species of sea snakes - all capable of delivering venom. The total number of snakes reported from the island and surrounding waters is about 75 species.
Tan, H. H. 2010. Epidemiology of snakebites from a general hospital in Singapore - a 5-year retrospective review (2004-2008).  Ann. Acad. Med. Singapore 39:640-7.

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