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Habu facts, consequences of bite
An Okinawa Habu is placed into a tank on Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 29, 2013. There are four habu species on Okinawa, two native and two introduced species, that can be identified by their coloring of either yellow-green and black, or light or dark brown and black. Habus are also venomous, nocturnal and can be found in grassy farmland, caves, tombs and rock walls. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hailey R. Davis/Released)
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Habu facts, consequences of bite

Posted 5/29/2013   Updated 5/30/2013 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Hailey Davis
18th Wing Public Affairs

5/29/2013 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- (Editor's note: This is the second article in a series about the habu snake and the consequences of being bitten.)

Two native and two introduced species of habu snakes inhabit the vegetation and jungle of Okinawa, making hiking and late-night ground travel very dangerous for people here.

Due to warmer months, rodents like mice, shrew and other food sources come out of winter hiding locations, causing habu and other predators to be more active within the community.

Characteristics of the Okinawa Habu are a yellow-green coloring with dark alternating blotches on its back. Up to eight feet in length, the Okinawa Habu is longer than the three other species on the island, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Wesley Walker, Detachment 3 U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine medical entomology and public health consultant.

The Okinawa Habu's habitat is that of rock walls, caves and tombs. The Taiwan Habu, which grows up to 46 inches, and the Sakishima Habu, which grows up to 70 inches, are introduced species that inhabit caves and tombs as well. The Hime Habu, which grows up to 32 inches in length, is native to Okinawa and finds itself near wooded areas transitioning into fields and farming areas near fresh water.

Regardless of the species, they are extremely dangerous, and one bite could cause severe damage.

"If someone is bitten, they should remove themselves from the area of the snake," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lawrence Decker, U.S. Naval Hospital Foster staff emergency medicine physician. "Transport the patient to the nearest medical facility as quickly as possible."

The injured part of the body should be immobilized, without using a tourniquet splint, in a functional position below the level of the heart, Decker and Walker said. The wound should then be cleansed for good infection control.

Staying calm and resisting the "cut and suck" method are very critical for survival during a venomous snake attack, Walker said. If an individual cuts an area in order to suck the venom out, they risk cutting arteries, veins or muscles.

This also causes further traumatic injury and introduces oral bacteria into the wound, Decker added. Tourniquets and pressure dressings can lead to worsening of local effects because the venom of a habu is hemotoxic, meaning it causes blood poisoning and can damage red blood cells.

When it comes to being bitten by a habu or any venomous snake, seeking medical attention immediately is critical.

"Treatment is primarily supportive," Decker said. "An (intravenous drip) will be started, labs will be drawn, and pain medication will be administered."

The individual will be monitored for severity of local pain, and redness or bleeding that occurs within an hour or two of the bite. They will also be monitored for hemolysis, which is the destruction of blood cells, and kidney function, Decker said.

"Severe local effects such as neuropathy and compartment syndrome, and treatment for infection complications such as tetanus will also be addressed," Decker added.

Because anti-venom can cause side-effects for those bitten by a habu snake, it is not administered first. An immediate side-effect risk is an anaphylactic reaction, meaning having sensitivity to the substance.

"This is more likely to occur when a patient has previously received anti-venom," Decker said. "They can also develop a febrile reaction called a pyrogenic reaction (or fever), which usually resolves without therapy."

Decker added that a patient can suffer from serum sickness which constitutes a rash, fever and polyarthritis, which affects five joints simultaneously. This usually begins one to two weeks after the first exposure to the anti-venom or other responsible agents, and resolve within a few weeks of discontinuation.

If an individual is bitten by a habu, and anti-venom is administered, once the individual recovers and based on occupational needs, it is up to their command whether the individual must leave the island. If service members and their families see a habu snake, contact the 18th Civil Engineer Squadron pest management flight with locations so they can take care of the situation.

11/27/2013 5:51:18 AM ET
Could you please include the phone number for the Civil Engineer Squadron pest management flight It's very difficult to find. Thank you.
M Hyla, Kadena
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