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Hidden Threats: Climate change’s impact on snakebite risk in Iran

Hidden Threats: Climate change's impact on snakebite risk in Iran

Snakebite, a global health crisis, claims the lives of approximately 100,000 people each year, with an estimated 5 million snakebites worldwide. A country rich in biodiversity, Iran is home to 15 venomous terrestrial snakes, including the infamous spider-tailed viper.

However, little is known about the distribution of venomous snakes, the spatial variation in snakebite risk, and the potential impact of climate change on this issue.

A recent study published in Nature has used advanced modelling techniques to shed light on snakebite risk patterns, the impact of climate change, and vulnerable populations in Iran.

Impact of climate change on the risk of snakebite

Employing an ensemble approach using five habitat suitability modelling algorithms, the researchers successfully mapped snakebite hotspots in Iran. The study revealed that the northwestern region, the Alborz Mountains, and the western Zagros Mountains are areas with the highest concentration of medically important venomous snakes, presenting significant snakebite risks. These findings are crucial for identifying priority areas for targeted interventions and resource allocation.

Climate change poses a significant threat to the security of Iran, particularly in relation to the risk of snakebites.

A recent study explored how climate change could affect snakebite patterns in the country, specifically focusing on future projections for the years 2071-2100. The study revealed that certain regions, particularly the Zagros Mountains, are expected to experience an increased risk of snakebites.

The study finding highlights the dynamic nature of snakebite risk and emphasizes the urgent need for proactive measures to mitigate the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.

The study shed light on anticipated changes in the species composition of venomous snakes in the mountainous regions of Iran. It predicted that areas like the Zagros, Alborz, and Kopet-Dagh mountains would undergo the most significant transformations in snake species. These changes in species composition further underscore the importance of closely monitoring and adapting snakebite management strategies to effectively address emerging risks. By doing so, the population can be better protected from the potentially fatal consequences of snakebites.

These changes underscore the importance of monitoring and adapting snakebite management strategies to address emerging risks and protect the population from envenoming.

Identification of vulnerable populations

As per the study, To effectively combat snakebites, it is critical to identify vulnerable populations. The study combined exposure to snakebites and accessibility to healthcare facilities to model vulnerability.

The central parts of Iran and the northeast region were identified as having the highest areas of vulnerability, characterized by limited access to healthcare facilities. Climate change is expected to exacerbate these vulnerabilities, particularly in the Zagros Mountains, where the risk of snakebite is projected to increase.

The study emphasizes the importance of developing specific snakebite management strategies based on an accurate risk assessment and an understanding of the changing distribution patterns of venomous snakes. Antidote distribution and awareness programs should be prioritized in areas identified as high-risk zones.

“It is essential to empower local communities, such as farmers, herders and nomads, who frequently encounter venomous snakes. Educating these groups about snake identification and proper health-seeking behavior can significantly reduce morbidity and mortality associated with snakebite envenoming” as per the study.

Role of climatic variables in risk of snakebite

The study identified the sum of growing heat degree days above 10°C and annual rainfall as the most influential predictors of habitat suitability for venomous snakes in Iran. These variables directly impact the growth of plants and insects, which serve as prey for snakes. By understanding the role of these climatic variables, authorities can better assess snakebite risk and develop specific prevention strategies to reduce human-snake encounters.

The study used CHELSA high-resolution climatology version 2.148, a platform that offers reduced climate data. Bioclimatic variables, derived from monthly temperature and precipitation data, were obtained at a resolution of 30 arcsec for current and future climate scenarios.

Five different CMIP6 global circulation models (GCMs) were used, including GFDL-ESM4, IPSL-CM6A-LR, MPI-ESM1-2-HR, MR-ESM2-0, and UKESM1-0-LL, spanning the years 2041- 2070 and 2071-2100. Two different shared socioeconomic pathways (SSP126 and SSP585) were considered to account for future CO2 emissions and associated climate changes.

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