Commissioned article: management of exotic snakebites

QJM. 2009 Sep;102(9):593-601. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcp075. Epub 2009 Jun 17.


Exotic (foreign or non-native) snakes, including venomous species, are becoming increasingly popular pets in Western countries. Some of them are kept illegally (as defined by the UK Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976). There is a large international market for such animals, with contraventions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In the UK, several other European countries and the USA the reported numbers of bites by venomous exotic snakes, although small, are increasing but still underestimate the occurrence of these occasionally fatal events because of the victims' reluctance to seek medical care. Victims are predominantly young men who have been drinking alcohol. Bites may be intentionally provoked. In Europe, the species most often involved are cobras, green mambas, American pit vipers particularly rattlesnakes, African adders, vipers and Asian green pit vipers. To illustrate the special problems involved, case histories are presented of bites by exotic species in the UK and of bites abroad, where patients were repatriated for treatment. In view of the relative rarity and diversity of these cases, expert advice must usually be sought. These requests should include information about the species thought to have been responsible and the history and timing of the evolution of envenoming. Sources of advice and antivenom are discussed together with recommendations for appropriate first aid and emergency treatment while this is being awaited. Respiratory and cardiovascular resuscitation may be required and when systemic or severe local envenoming develops, specific (equine or ovine) antivenom is indicated.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Snake Bites / complications
  • Snake Bites / epidemiology
  • Snake Bites / therapy*
  • Snake Venoms / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Snakes / classification*


  • Snake Venoms