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News Clippings

Saturday 16 November 1996 (Daily Telegraph)

Doctor's Diary: The charm of snakes and their bite for life
By James Le Fanu

SOME people, I suppose, are just completely fearless. How else can one explain the extraordinary story from Birmingham of the 5ft python who appeared in Peter Ellam's bath? And what did he do? "He attempted to grab hold of its head, but the snake wrapped itself around his other hand and then bit him." Luckily, the snakebite turned out to be harmless - but still!

This story caught my attention as I had just come across an article describing how keeping a pet snake can be good for one's health.

It is by now well known that, for a variety of reasons, keeping a dog reduces the risk of a heart attack. But there has, so far, been little research into whether other pets - such as snakes - have a similar effect.

But the question has been investigated in some detail in the study of a man who has kept a pet boa constrictor for 15 years. While strapped up to a cardiac monitor, he was asked to touch and stroke his snake. The machine revealed a markedly beneficial effect on his cardiovascular system - his pulse slowed and his blood pressure showed a reduction.

The only other account of the salutary effect of snakes on human health involves a 70-year-old Australian woman. While she was recovering from a heart attack, she woke to feel a prickling sensation in her hand.

This, she soon realised, was caused by a snake she found curled up in the bed beside her that had obviously slid through the open French windows into her bedroom. It turned out to be a tiger snake, which kills its victims with a powerful anti-coagulant venom. This works in a similar way to the clot-busting drug streptokinase.

"I explained to the patient she had received the most modern treatment for a heart attack, albeit by a rather unconventional route. She did not turn a hair," reports the doctor describing the case in The Lancet.

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