Snake venom is made up of several hundred proteins which all have a slightly different toxic effect on the human body. One snake’s poison may not be like another’s, even if they are from the same species.
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But, on the whole, there are two main ways snakes make us suffer – by attacking the circulatory system (ie. the blood) and/or the nervous system.
Haemotoxic venom goes for the bloodstream. It can trigger lots of tiny blood clots and then when the venom punches holes in blood vessels causing them to leak, there is nothing left to stem the flow and the patient bleeds to death.
Other venoms can increase blood pressure, decrease blood pressure, prevent bleeding or create it. They are all bad news.
Neurotoxic venom tends to act more quickly, attacking the nervous system and stopping nerve signals getting through to the muscles.
This means paralysis, starting at the head, moving down the body until, if untreated, the diaphragm is paralysed and the patient can’t breathe. A classic sign of this is ptosis, when people can’t keep their eyes open.
Around the area of the bite, necrosis can set in. That happens when the venom destroys nearby muscles, tissues and cells. Long-term, this can lead to amputations, the loss of the use of a limb or the need for multiple skin grafts.