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Science has not proven the effectiveness of bitter kola as antivenom

Written by on November 30, 2021

Poto credit: Facebook.com

5 mins read

Claim: A message currently circulating on Whatsapp claims that bitter kola is a snake repellent and snake venom neutralizer.

Verdict: Verification shows that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of bitter kola as antivenom. Even though science has proven that bitter kola is an effective snake repellent from a radius of a mile away. Snakebite victims are advised to seek immediate medical attention.

Full text

Recently, a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) personnel attached to the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lance Corporal Ogah Bercy, was reported to have died of complications from a snakebite in her toilet on 19 November 2021, at the NAF base Bill Clinton Drive, Abuja.

Reports said the snake is suspected to have found its way into her home through the septic tank to the waste dislodger, then made its way into her toilet bowl (WC) and bit her when she sat on the toilet seat in her room.

Although Bercy was rushed to the medical center, she didn’t survive.

Following the event, various recommendations on remedies to either prevent or cure snake bites began to surface on social media.

One of them is one that urged Nigerians to either use salt or a mixture of kerosene and salt to flush toilets for the eradication of reptiles and to use sodium hypochlorite in toilets because it can effectively kill snakes. 

Screenshot of Whatsapp claim

Another claim surfaced on WhatsApp, urging Nigerians to ignore the kerosene and salt mixture message, claiming that snakes can’t live inside soakaway.

Then another  Whatsapp message urged Nigerians to drink and eat bitter kola, with the message that bitter kola can neutralize snake venom.

“If the snake bite or scopion bite just eat one bitter cola and the snake poison and scopion poison will neutralize within few minute of eating it. You use bitter cola to keep snake away from your home. Get dried bitter cola grind it to powder apply the powder to the floor of your house. If any snake crosses it, it will die instantly. Children at home can accidentally eat poisonous things like eating bar soap or powedered soap” the claim said.

Screenshot of the second Whatsapp message

Dubawa decided to verify the credibility of the claims. 

Verification

Garcinia kola is also known as bitter kola is a sharp seed, eaten raw with a bitter flavor that eases into a slight sweetness.

A word search showed that the claim was retrieved from a Facebook post in 2018. 

A Facebook user Sure truth posted the claim that garnered 29, 254 shares and over 6000 comments, on 26 October 2018. Dubawa noticed that while the post was generating positive feedback some users questioned its credibility. 

Screenshot of the Facebook post by Sure truth

Like Zaidau S Umar queried, “I know it’s does a lot of good,but that venom, I doubt. Snake venoms act differently, so there is no single anti venom that works for all”. The same way Seh Vuntin Ten sarcastically said, “I will try this… Next I see a snake I will try to touch it and eat bitter kola to know if it will work”.

A background check revealed that Sure truth claims to be a herbalist who gives natural home remedies.

Experts verdict

Cleveland clinic website, an hospital known for research, coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States, noted that there are two major types of venomous snakes which include:

  1. The elapids (cobra family): There are about 300 venomous species of Elapidae, including kraits, mambas, coral snakes, and sea snakes. They have short fangs in the front of the upper jaw and strike downward, followed by chewing. Their venom is mainly neurotoxic but it can also harm body tissue or blood cells. A person can die from paralysis of the heart and lungs very quickly after a cobra bites.
  2. The vipers: There are more than 200 species of Viperidae, which include pit vipers (like rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, or cottonmouths) and old-world vipers (adders). They have long, hollow, venomous fangs attached to movable bones in their upper jaw. They fold their fangs back into their mouth when they’re not in use.

The clinic went on to advise that it is important to seek immediate medical attention because the ultimate treatment for a snake bite is antivenom. But while waiting for medical attention, victims are asked to take these precautionary measures:

  1. A victim is advised to remove any jewelry or watches, as these could cut into the skin if swelling occurs. 
  2. Also, keep the area of the bite below the heart to slow the spread of venom through the bloodstream. 
  3. Moving around a lot will cause the venom to spread faster through the body so a victim needs to remain still and calm. 
  4. The victim should cover the bite with a clean, dry bandage. The bandage should be tightly wrapped around the bite. Then, wrap another bandage around the entire limb, so that it’s immobilized.

Knowing the size, color, and shape of the snake can help the doctor determine which antivenom is best for that particular situation.

So, can bitter kola neutralize every snake venom?

A quick check revealed that antivenoms are created by immunizing horses or sheep with the venom of a particular snake. Their blood serum (the watery part of the blood) is then processed, as it will contain antibodies capable of neutralizing the effects of the venom. 

Some antivenoms treat bites from a specific type of snake (monospecific antivenoms) and also those that treat bites from a number of snakes found in a particular geographic region (polyspecific antivenoms).

Dubawa went on to contact a conservation biologist/ ornithologist, Mrs. Nanchin Winifred Kazeh, who said science has proven that bitter kola is an effective snake repellent but it doesn’t kill them. 

Kazeh said, “Sure the remedy is very effective as proven by scientific research. The use of bitter kola as snake repellent has proven to be an effective eco-friendly method. Is a win-win for conservation as none of the snakes are killed in the process. The smell from the kola repel snakes from a radius of a mile away”

The ornithologist however said science is yet to prove whether the smell of the bitter kola can repel all snake species.

“But the mixture of salt and kerosene has not been scientifically proven as snake repellent” Kaze added.

While advising people to properly seal soakaways, septic tanks, inspection chambers, and manholes, she also affirmed that snakes can truly slip into broken soakaways to look for rats.

Conclusion

Verification has proven that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of bitter kola as antivenom. Even though science has proven that bitter kola is an effective snake repellent from a radius of a mile away. Snakebite victims are advised to seek immediate medical attention.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship partnership with JAY 101.9 FM Jos to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.


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