Horror Videos Showing How Venom Clots Blood Highlight Dangers of Snake Bites

Videos circulating on social media showing how snake venom can clot a person's blood help highlight the huge risks posed by these limbless, fanged reptiles. In the U.S., half of all snake bites are the result of people intentionally provoking them. Understanding the risk they are placing themselves in could, potentially, help reduce the number of people suffering bites.

It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by snakes each year in the U.S. However, morbidity is very low, with around six deaths per year attributable to envenomations (poisoning by venom).

In a review of snake envenomations published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers have looked at the global health problem, examining the morphology of venomous snakes and what happens when a person is bitten by one.

Between 80,000 and 130,000 people are killed by venomous snakes every year—the same number as those killed by either drug-resistant tuberculosis, skin cancers or measles. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the situation as a priority in its Neglected Tropical Diseases list in 2017, with the aim of halving deaths and disabilities by 2030. Despite the renewed focus on snake envenomation, and major advances in our understanding of the biology of venom and snake bite management, the issue has not been addressed in the NEJM for around 20 years, the researchers wrote.

Steven A. Seifert, from the Department of Emergency Medicine and the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, wrote the article with James O. Armitage, from the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Elda E. Sanchez, from the National Natural Toxins Research Center at Texas A&M University–Kingsville.

In an email to Newsweek, the researchers said the major changes in the science of snake bite management and antivenom developments meant it seemed like a good time to review the problem.

There has been huge interest in snake venom and its effect on the body over the last decade as a result of videos circulating on social media platforms showing what happens when you mix it with blood. One YouTube video posted in 2012 shows what happens when you mix one drop of Russell's Viper venom with human blood. It has been viewed 2.5 million times.

Another, posted in 2017, shows Malayan Pit Viper venom turn human blood into a "gelatin-like clump." This video has been viewed over 55 million times.

YouTuber and wildlife educator Coyote Peterson also took part in a venom experiment in 2021, showing what impact viper venom had on his blood during an experiment with microbiologist Dr. Hunter Hines.

The researchers said that while some venoms causes blood to coagulate, others impair clotting, which results in bleeding. "Some snake venoms can cause both, simultaneously," they told Newsweek.

"Awareness is an important tool, if it reduces intentional interaction with venomous snakes, which is responsible for a sizeable proportion of envenomations. In the U.S., it is estimated that up to half of the snakebites involve intentional interaction. Eliminating those bites would instantly achieve a halving of morbidity and mortality. Of course, you're dealing with an area of fascination for some individuals and human behavior that is difficult to modify. Public education and regulations may help."

In the article, the authors said unprovoked snake bites tend to involve females and their lower extremities, while provoked bites tend to involve men and the upper extremities.

"Males are more likely to engage in exploratory and risky behaviors," they said. "It's a given that males are more likely to intentionally interact with snakes, and thus more likely to be involved when a bite occurs. In some parts of the world, where snakes are endemic to the environment and mostly an occupational or environmental exposure, the ratio of unprovoked bites will more closely reflect who is out and about."

They say WHO's target of halving the impact of snake envenomations in the next eight years is achievable. "Much of the morbidity and mortality associated with snakebite relates to the lack of rapid availability of appropriate providers and antivenoms," they said.

"Advances in the response systems, improvements in antivenom safety and availability, and dissemination of current management knowledge are all needed to achieve these goals. However, they are achievable. The current WHO focus is one way we are moving snakebite from the category of a neglected disease to one that is being actively attacked.

"When you look at morbidity and mortality rates in developed countries with very venomous snakes, but also good healthcare systems and antivenoms, such as Australia and the U.S., you see what can be done. Given the large societal impact of venomous snakebite in the other parts of the world, there's no reason that a concerted effort cannot accomplish the same elsewhere."

venomous bush viper
Stock photo of a venomous bush viper. Up to 130,000 people die from snake bites every year. Getty Images