Indian Snake Poisons, Their Nature and Effects/Preface

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The following is an attempt to present in a concise form the chief features of snake-poisoning as seen in India. The object that has been kept in view has been to define, as closely as possible, the conditions on which the mortality from snake-bite depends, both as regards the physiological nature of the poisoning process, and the relations between the reptiles and their victims, so as to indicate the way in which we should best proceed with the hope of diminishing the fearful mortality that exists.

The observations were made by the author in India under the auspices of the Government. It was during the experiments made for the purpose of finding out the exact cause of the fatal results — one of the first steps that must be taken whenever a method of treatment is sought — that the great and numerous differences in the effects of the various poisons became manifest.

Although every effort has been made to test the various remedies that have been proposed for snakebite — and they have been very many — it has not been thought necessary to give the unsatisfactory results of the various trials. The effect of potassium permanganate in destroying the activity of cobra-poison when mixed with it before injection was ascertained by the author some four years ago, but frequent experiment has convinced him that as a practical method of treating the constitutional effects of the poison it is of no avail.

The recommendations for treatment given have been tested practically, and the circumstances under which the misfortune happens have been constantly borne in mind. Cases of poisoning by snakes do not usually occur in crowded cities with hospitals always open, vyith every appliance to receive the sufferer, but in the fields where the peasant steps on the lurking reptile, or more frequently still in the remote village where the wife is bitten in a dark corner of her hut by the snake which superstition has compelled her household to protect. Directions for treatment, to be of use, must be adapted to these contingencies.

The snakes mentioned have been referred to, as a rule, by their scientific names. Had vernacular terms been employed it would not have been possible to select any that would have been intelligible except in very limited areas. Thus the Bungarus cœruleus is the Krait of Bengal, but the Gedi Paragúdú of the Coromandel coast. The Echis carinata is Afaë of Delhi, the Kupper of Scinde, and the Foorsa of Bombay. The word cobra has been used as it is of general acceptance, though quite unknown in any native dialect; we are indebted for it to our Portuguese predecessors. It is to be regretted that its scientific equivalent is Naja instead of Naga, as representing more accurately the Sanscrit Nág, a serpent, in which it had its origin.

Although the gravity of a case of snake-poisoning can hardly be over-estimated, yet it must be considered full of promise that recovery may follow even the severe hæmorrhages of viperine poisoning. No wound inflicted by a venomous snake can be despised, yet even when symptoms have developed no case should be considered necessarily fatal. It is hoped that the suggestions made may be of practical use to those who have to deal with this awful scourge, and that the facts here demonstrated may form a starting point for some more successful departure.