Snake bite drama in Penela: child in serious condition

A 10-year-old boy had to be rushed to hospital this week following a bite from the notorious ‘víbora cornuda’ – one of the only venomous species of snake found in Portugal and endemic to parts of the Algarve.

The child – described as Dutch by some papers, English by others – is being treated with antidote in Coimbra Hospital.

Despite being described the day after the incident as in “a serious condition”, he is believed to be ‘out of danger’ and is expected to make a full recovery.

The bite followed the boy’s attempts to touch the snake, which he spied during a walk with his father and older brother in Penela’s Serra do Espinhal.

According to reports, the family quickly sought help from Espinhal chemist, by which time the boy was screaming in pain.

Tabloid Correio da Manhã spoke with pharmacist Joana Félix who explained the father had “sucked” the child’s blood from the snake bite wound, in an attempt to reduce the effects of the bite, but the boy’s hand was nonetheless very swollen.

She and a colleague rushed the child into the back of the premises, to thoroughly wash his wound with cold water and help reduce swelling, while INEM was actioned to take him to hospital.

The child was admitted into intensive care at Coimbra’s Pediatric Hospital and is believed to be still there.

CM stresses the ‘protocol’ with snake bites is to call INEM (tel 808250143), disinfect the area where the victim has been bitten and apply ice (carefully to avoid burning the skin) while waiting for help to arrive.

These ‘víbora cornudas’ (snub-nosed vipers, otherwise known as Lataste vipers in honour French herpetologist Fernand Lataste) are notorious as Portugal’s ‘only venomous snake species’: the ones to be worried about. Their venom is not deadly, but it is poisonous. They are well known in some areas of the Algarve (particularly Monchique). They are not known to ‘attack’ people, but they do strike back if people try to interact with them.

Around 30-40 centimetres long, these snakes have a triangular head and, as the English description explains, a kind of snub-nose, or small horn-type feature. Their backs can be greyish in colour, or brown, with a dark zig-zag always visible.

Advice, always, is if you come upon one of these snakes during a walk, give it ample space to get away, move slowly and out of its path.

CM adds that there is in fact another species of snake in Portugal that is also venomous. The víbora Seoane, or Baskian viper (also endemic to the Basque region of Spain and extreme southwestern regions of France).

These are the only venomous snakes found in Portugal. The others – and there are a number of varieties – are non-venomous but should still be treated with caution and left to escape whenever found in their natural habitat.

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