Snake bites happen from time to time to time in Thailand, but mainly in a rural context, rather than walking across the road from a local market to the car park.
Our interview with a recent expat victim of English descent revealed just that scenario. After an evening meal at a Cha-Am street market, Mark made two mistakes. First he chose to take a few steps through some undergrowth between the road and the car park. Second his footwear was a pair of what many people call ‘flip-flops’. He immediately realised the source of the stabbing pain in his foot but saw nothing of the assailant.
Returning to the market, the distinctive double puncture wound confirmed his fears, so off to the nearby hospital. There Mark found himself alongside another patient being treated for a snake bite. By now he was in intense pain, he says pain far worse than a bout of appendicitis some years ago.
Our victim was very complimentary about the medical attention given at the Cha-Am government hospital, but that was limited to intravenous pain relief without a confirmed identity of the snake species being available. The consensus of local experts, based on the bite pattern and circumstances, was towards a Malaysian Pit Viper being the assailant, but that’s not good enough to administer the species-dependent anti-venom.
A few hours of agony at the hospital followed but several days later there is no sign of longer-term damage, just some minor swelling and two puncture wounds as proof of the encounter. Now Mark just has to endure the flood of bad snake jokes on his Facebook feed; “I’m not worried about you; how is the snake?”
That this was an encounter with a Malayan Pit Viper, fits descriptions of this sometimes-dangerous snake. The Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostoma) is a well-camouflaged, terrestrial, brown species that is found in most of southeastern Asia.
It is a snake with a reputation for being bad-tempered and quick to strike. Its camouflage makes it difficult to spot in a natural environment, sometimes amongst leaf litter. This can be an occupational hazard for rubber plantation workers and other workers in the fields as its potent venom can cause serious injury when disturbed.
Remarkably sedentary, it has often been found in the same place several hours after an incident involving humans. Its venom causes severe pain, local swelling and sometimes tissue necrosis. In a 2005 study of 225 bites in Thailand, most victims had mild to moderate symptoms, but some developed long-term swollen limbs.
Antivenin is manufactured in Thailand to neutralise circulating venom but does little to counteract local tissue necrosis, usually well established by the time victims presents for treatment. Necrosis is the irreversible death of body tissue from injury, radiation, or in this case snake bite venom.
It is understood that snake sightings in the area near the Cha-Am market in question have been more frequent lately. This may be because a significant area of land nearby has just been cleared as the construction of a shopping centre has begun. Disturbance of habitat is often an issue for wildlife. Maybe this snake had been forced to move from it’s usual haunt and was even more bad tempered than usual.
Mark is now looking forward to returning to the golf course. Golf shoes will provide some protection if he has another snake encounter and he’ll be more wary now about fossicking around in the rough looking for an errant ball.
He’ll also take an open path to the car park on his next trip to the market; maybe good advice for anyone wanting to avoid a similar painful encounter.