An analysis of paediatric snakebites in north-eastern South Africa

Keywords: paediatric, snakebite, antivenom


Background: Snakebites are an underappreciated health concern in middle- and lower-income countries. The lack of national data vastly impacts funding for this health crisis, as well as strategies for treatment and prevention. Children are particularly vulnerable to snakebite and data in this group is limited.

Methods: This study included paediatric patients, aged 13 years old or younger, admitted to Ngwelezana Tertiary Hospital, Department of Surgery with a snakebite or snakebite related complication, from 1 September 2008 to 31 December 2013. Data captured included demographics, time of presentation, syndromic symptoms, blood results and patient management.

Results: A total of 274 patients were included in this study. The median age at presentation was 8 years, with approximately 70% of the patients aged between 6 and 13 years, with a male predominance (56%). The median time of presentation after sustaining a snakebite was 7 hours (interquartile range 4–13 hours). The majority of patients (71%) presented with cytotoxic manifestations. A total of 53 patients received antivenom of whom 25% suffered adverse reactions. Fifty-six patients underwent one or more procedures on their affected limbs. Three patients required admission to the intensive care unit; all were part of the cytotoxic group and received antivenom. There were no recorded mortalities.

Conclusion: The majority of snakebites are cytotoxic in nature. One-fifth of the paediatric population require antivenom and one-fifth require a surgical procedure post envenomation. Adverse effects post antivenom use are common but manageable. Prevention programmes are needed to help reduce this burden of disease and a nationwide snakebite registry is long overdue.

Author Biographies

J J P Buitendag, Stellenbosch University

Department of Surgery, Tygerberg Hospital, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

S Variawa, Stellenbosch University

Department of Surgery, Khayelitsha District Hospital, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

D Wood, Queen Mary University London

Department of Emergency Medicine, Queens Hospital BHRUT, Queen Mary University London, United Kingdom

G Oosthuizen, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Department of Surgery, Ngwelezana Hospital, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

How to Cite
Buitendag, J., Variawa, S., Wood, D., & Oosthuizen, G. (2021). An analysis of paediatric snakebites in north-eastern South Africa. South African Journal of Surgery, 59(3), 97-101. Retrieved from