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Chapter: Modern Medical Toxicology: Organic Poisons (Toxins): Venomous Bites and Stings

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Common Indian Venomous Snakes

Indian Snakes of Medical Importance

Common Indian Venomous Snakes

Indian Snakes of Medical Importance

The WHO classifies the following as Indian Snakes of Medical Importance:

·              Class I - Commonly cause death or serious disability: Cobra/Russells Viper/Saw-Scaled Viper

·              Class II - Uncommonly cause bites but are recorded to causeserious effects (death or local necrosis): Krait/King Cobra

·              Class III - Commonly cause bites but serious effects are veryuncommon.

It is interesting to note that the king cobra is present on this list. There are other snakes such as the hump-nosed pit viper that also qualify under these categories. The term ‘The Big Four’ has been used in India for many decades, to describe the common cobra, Russell’s viper, common krait and saw-scaled viper. This was due to the belief that these four snakes were responsible for causing virtually all snakebite deaths in India. However, this has led to confusion when a death occurs resulting from snakebite. The assumption has been that the death must be due to one of the snakes on the Big Four list. This has led to major problems of species misidentification, such as the hump-nosed pit viper being erroneously identified as Echis carinatus. With the emergence of a hump-nosed pit viper as a snake of medical importance, questions now exist over the other snakes in India and whether they are also capable of causing lethal envenomation and to what extent.





The Big Four

 

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