Everyone knows that venom can kill you, but how does it actually affect the human body?
It turns out that there are actually three different kinds of snake venom and they each have a different affect..
“Hemotoxic venom is designed to assault the cardiovascular system. Cytotoxic venom targets specific sites or muscle groups, while neurotoxic venom goes after the brain and nervous system. Some snakes combine venom types for a more effective bite, while others only carry one specific form of venom. All venoms contain a complex cocktail of proteins and enzymes” (Wisegeek).
Hemotoxic venom will cause the bite victim to experience decreased blood pressure and blood clotting. If the venom reaches the heart before receiving treatment, this is a big problem and usually results in death.
Cytotoxic venom kills human tissue and if any tissue dies then it will have to be amputated.
The goal of neurotoxic venom is to “disrupt the function of the brain and nervous system” (wisegeek). This kind of venom can lead to paralysis and an inability to control one’s muscles. This type of venom “can also attack the body’s supply of ATP, a nucleotide which is critical in energy transfer between cells” (wisegeek).
The danger from venom does not just depend on the type of venom that the victim is inflicted with, it also depends on what kind of snake or animal it is, how much venom was put in the person’s system, and where the bite was.
Obviously a study of how different venom affects people would be highly unethical, so the only way to learn about how venom interacts with the human body is to compare observational data of people that were bitten and would happened to them.
The degree of severity will also depend on the person, just as with medication doses, a child will not need as much to get the same response as an adult.
When comparing venomous snakes and which ones are the most deadly, numbers will be thrown out there like only a fraction of a milligram is enough to kill however many amount of humans.
But how accurate are these figures? Is this an inexact science?
As I mentioned before, it would be highly unethical to test venom responses on humans, so this is not how it is determined. I attempted to find an explanation for this determination and amazingly did not find any, only pieces of data about how toxic particular snake venom would be to humans but no explanation for the methodology behind it.
This leaves me to only speculate, it could be that scientists determine how much venom is needed to kill animals like mice, this amount is converted to humans based on weight, and this information is used in conjunction with information observed from bite victims about the amount of venom in their system.
This seems like the most plausible way of doing it, if it can easily be determined how much venom was in a person’s system after a bite whether they survive or not, this would be valuable information to compare. A compounding issue is how difficult it is to identify snakes for most people, unless there is something distinct about it like a rattlesnake, a bite victim could have little idea about what snake bit them.
It is my thought that the amount of venom needed to kill a human is a very inexact science and it would definitely depend on the size and condition of the person too.
Luckily for us in the United States, the rattlesnake was the only snake from the Americas to make this list of the world’s top ten most deadly snakes.