Snakebites Kill 6,000 Bangladeshis Each Year

Some 700,000 people in Bangladesh are bitten by snakes every year and up to 6,000 of those die, in part because of poor access to medical care, making snakebites the impoverished country's second leading cause of unnatural death, a ministry of health study has found.

Most of the incidents occur during the May to October rainy season when snakes are flushed out of their natural environment, Azizar Rahman, director in charge of the government's department of disease control, said Sunday while explaining the snakebite study's findings.

Drowning is the leading cause of unnatural death in Bangladesh, a delta nation that is crisscrossed by some 350 rivers. The country of 150 million people is also home to some 50 species of snake, including the king cobra and krait.

The study, which was conducted by eight local and international experts with funding from the government and the World Bank, found that 29 percent of snakebite victims are bitten while walking at night, 24 percent while working in the fields and 15 percent while they are sleeping.

It's difficult to spot the snakes in the dark in rural areas where electricity and street lights are rare. Almost half of all Bangladeshis live on less than $1 a day.

The study found only 3 percent of the victims are treated at hospitals or by registered doctors, while 86 percent seek treatment from untrained snake charmers or village healers.

Rahman said the study underlined the problem of snakebites.

"It's good that we have done it finally," he said. "Now it will be possible to work on reducing deaths."

He said the government is planning a massive campaign to train people how to treat snakebites.