FRANKFURT, Germany, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Fatal snakebites worldwide have been vastly underreported because many die before seeking or reaching medical care, researchers in Germany say.
Ulrich Kuch of Biodiversity and Climate Research in Frankfurt, Germany, said the World Health Organization estimated as many as 5 million people suffer from snakebites each year, resulting in 300,000 cases of permanent disability and about 100,000 deaths. However, two recent studies reveal the magnitude of the problem is far greater than official statistics show.
A study published this year in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases found 46,000 people die every year in India from snakebites, compared to the official figure of 2,000.
A second survey found 700,000 snakebites and 6,000 deaths annually in Bangladesh, far higher than previous estimates, Kuch said.
"People are dying in their villages without 'bothering' the health system," Kuch said in a statement. "They simply don't show up in the statistics."
A Bangladeshi study found only 3 percent of those treated went directly to a physician or hospital, but 86 percent saw a "snake charmer." Snakebite victims often do not go to hospitals because they have to travel too far, anti-venom is scarce in many regions, or the treatment can be too expensive, Kuch said.
If those bitten survive, they often are permanently disabled by the effect of the toxins in the venom, Kuch said.