Snakebites epidemiology and demographics

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Every state but Maine, Alaska and Hawaii is home to at least one of 20 domestic poisonous snake species. About 8,000 people a year receive venomous bites in the United States; nine to 15 victims die. Some experts say that because victims can't always positively identify a snake, they should seek prompt care for any bite, though they may think the snake is nonpoisonous. Some deaths are sudden, however in fact it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite. In the 1900’s, the untreated death rates were as high as 40% to 50%. Improved supportive treatment and the availability of effective antivenoms has reduced this considerably.

Epidemiology and Demographics

Since reporting is not mandatory, many snakebites go unreported. Consequently, no accurate study has ever been conducted to determine the frequency of snakebites on the international level. However, some estimates put the number at 2.5 million bites per year, resulting in perhaps 125,000 deaths.[1] Worldwide, snakebites occur most frequently in the summer season when snakes are active and humans are outdoors.[2] Agricultural and tropical regions report more snakebites than anywhere else.[1] Victims are typically male and between 17 and 27 years of age.[2]

A late 1950s study estimated that 45,000 snakebites occur each year in the United States.[3] Despite this large number, only 7,000 to 8,000 of those snakebites are actually caused by venomous snakes, resulting in an average of 10 deaths. This puts the chance of survival at roughly 499 out of 500. The majority of bites in the United States occur in the southwestern part of the country, in part because rattlesnake populations in the eastern states are much lower.[4]

Most snakebite related deaths in the United States are attributed to eastern and western diamondback rattlesnake bites. Children and the elderly are most likely to die (Gold & Wingert 1994). The state of North Carolina has the highest frequency of reported snakebites, averaging approximately 19 bites per 100,000 persons. The national average is roughly 4 bites per 100,000 persons.[5]

Global evaluation of snakebites [6]
Landmasses Population (x106) Total number of bites No. of envenomations No. of fatalities
Europe 730 25,000 8,000 30
Middle East 160 20,000 15,000 100
USA and Canada 270 45,000 6,500 15
Central and South America 400 300,000 150,000 5,000
Africa 760 1,000,000 500,000 20,000
Asia 3,500 4,000,000 2,000,000 100,000
Oceania 20* 10,000 3,000 200
Total 5,840 5,400,000 2,682,500 125,345


  1. 1.0 1.1 "WHO | Snake Antivenom Immunoglobulins". Retrieved 2013-02-12.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wingert W, Chan L (1988). "Rattlesnake bites in southern California and rationale for recommended treatment". West J Med. 148 (1): 37–44. PMID 3277335. Retrieved 2006-05-26.
  3. Parrish H (1966). "Incidence of treated snakebites in the United States". Public Health Rep. 81 (3): 269–76. PMID 4956000.
  4. Russell, Findlay E. “Snake venom poisoning.” Great Neck, N.Y.: Scholium, 1983:163.
  5. Russell F. "Snake venom poisoning in the United States". Annu Rev Med. 31: 247–59. PMID 6994610.
  6. "" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-02-12.