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Venomous Creatures and Wildlife: A Decade of Injury Hospitalisations in Australia

Venomous Animals and Wildlife map of Australia

Exploring the Impact of Venomous Animals and Wildlife on Human Health from 2012 to 2022

Australia, known for its diverse and unique fauna, is home to a wide array of venomous creatures and wild animals. While these animals play a crucial role in the ecosystem, they can also pose significant risks to human health. We’ll explore the injury hospitalisations caused by venomous animals and wildlife in Australia between 2012 and 2022, shedding light on the most common culprits, demographic trends, and the impact of geography on these incidents.

The bar graph illustrates the comparison of injuries by animal type for the year 2012-22. It shows the number of hospitalisations related to different types of animals, including reptiles, insects and arthropods, venomous snakes and lizards, spiders, and other venomous animals.
Comparison of injuries by animal type for the year 2021-22.

Wildlife-Related Injuries

Between the years 2021-22, wildlife (excluding marine animals) was responsible for 4,980 injury hospitalisations in Australia, accounting for 21% of all animal-related hospitalisations. This translates to a rate of 19.3 hospitalisations per 100,000 people. Notably, reptiles were involved in 48% of these cases, with venomous snakes and lizards contributing to 11% of wildlife-related injuries.

Insects and arthropods also played a significant role, associated with 30% of wildlife-related hospitalisations, with spiders alone responsible for 10% of these cases. Males were more susceptible to wildlife-related injuries compared to females, with rates of 24 and 15 per 100,000, respectively. Homes were the most common location for these incidents, accounting for 20% of cases.

Encouragingly, wildlife-related injury hospitalisations have been on a downward trend since 2012 across all age groups, sexes, and regions. However, the rates remain highest among males and in very remote areas.

Types of Venomous Animals Causing Hospitalisations
Types of Venomous Animals Causing Hospitalisations

Venomous Animal-Related Injuries

In 2021-22, venomous animals accounted for less than 1% of all injury hospitalisations in Australia, with 2,867 cases reported. This marks a decrease from 3,520 cases in 2017-18. The crude rate of injury hospitalisations due to venomous animals stood at 11.1 per 100,000 in 2021-22, compared to 72.8 per 100,000 for non-venomous animals.

Bee allergies emerged as the leading cause of venomous animal-related hospitalisations, responsible for 1,072 cases (37%). Venomous snakes and lizards followed closely, causing 539 hospitalisations (19%), with brown snakes being the most commonly identified species. Spiders were implicated in 455 injury hospitalisations (16%), with redbacks and funnel web spiders being the most prevalent.

Males were more prone to venomous animal-related injuries, accounting for more than 60% of hospitalised cases. Adults, particularly those aged 45-64, had the highest rate of hospitalisations at 14.4 per 100,000. While the place of occurrence was not specified in over 50% of incidents, homes were the most common location among cases with recorded information.

Age-wise Distribution of Venomous Animal-related Hospitalisations 2012-22
Age-wise Distribution of Venomous Animal-related Hospitalisations 2021-22

Trends and Regional Variations

Injury hospitalisations associated with venomous animals have remained relatively stable across Australia since 2012-13, with 45-64-year-olds consistently being the most affected age group. However, rates of hospitalisation due to venomous wildlife have decreased across all age groups and regions during this period.

Regional variations play a significant role in the incidence of venomous animal-related injuries. Rates of hospitalisation increase with remoteness, highlighting the need for targeted prevention and treatment strategies in these areas.

Snake Bite Envenomation

Snake bite envenomation is a relatively uncommon occurrence in Australia, with 535 hospitalisations recorded in 2012-22. Of these cases, 165 had a primary diagnosis of toxic effect of snake venom. The relationship between snake species, the number of cases, and the occurrence of toxic effects is complex. Brown snakes, responsible for the largest number of cases (200), had only 27% of cases with a recorded diagnosis of toxic effect of venom. In contrast, species such as sea snakes and taipans had 80-100% of cases with a principal diagnosis of toxic effects of venom.

Data from the Australian Snakebite Project 2005-2015 reveals that nearly half of snake bites occurred when people were unknowingly active around a snake, while 15% happened when individuals attempted to catch or kill snakes.

Conclusion

The impact of venomous animals and wildlife on human health in Australia is significant, with thousands of injury hospitalisations recorded each year. While the overall trend in wildlife-related injuries has been declining, venomous animal-related hospitalisations have remained relatively stable. Males, adults aged 45-64, and those living in remote areas are at higher risk of these injuries.

Understanding the patterns and trends associated with venomous animal and wildlife-related injuries is crucial for developing effective prevention strategies and allocating healthcare resources. Educating the public about the risks associated with venomous creatures and promoting safe behaviors in natural environments can help reduce the incidence of these injuries.

As Australia continues to grapple with the challenges posed by its unique fauna, ongoing research and surveillance will be essential to mitigate the impact of venomous animals and wildlife on human health. By working together, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public can create a safer environment for both humans and the incredible creatures that call Australia home.

*Data: The AIHW is an independent statutory Australian Government agency with more than 30 years of experience working with health and welfare data.

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