The attitude of Australian homoeopathic practitioners to the treatment of bites and stings: a questionnaire study.
We conducted a pilot study using a self-administered survey to investigate the current use of homoeopathic treatments for various bites and stings by Australian practitioners. While the response rate for this study was low (n=35), we found that 91% of respondents had used homoeopathic treatments for bites and stings, with the most frequent being treatment of bee and wasp stings and whitetail spider bites. All respondents indicated that they perceived treatment success to be good to excellent with few patients requiring further homoeopathic or conventional treatment. Data on the types of remedies prescribed by these practitioners demonstrated that although treatments are individualised, similar remedies are used for similar envenomations. This unique pilot study demonstrates that there is potential for further research in this area, particularly in regards to understanding the efficacy of these treatments.
Vargas G, Kewley RJ, Wilkinson JM. The attitude of Australian homoeopathic practitioners to the treatment of bites and stings: a questionnaire study. Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society 2007;13(1): 9-13. (8 references, 4 tables).
Keywords: Homoeopathy; Practitioners; Venom; Spider; Snake; Australia.
Homoeopathy is often considered by Western conventional medical practitioners and researchers to be at the fringes of legitimate medical care. The use of homoeopathic treatments and how their efficacy might best be studied has given rise to several debates in the literature (see The Lancet 2005, volume 366 for a series of papers on this issue). Homoeopathy is integrated into the national health care systems of several countries (1). In Australia, where homoeopathy is not part of national health care system, a study of general medical practitioners found that 18% felt that homoeopathy had some moderate to high potential effectiveness (2). It is therefore timely to further examine the use and practice of homoeopathy and this study addresses one aspect of homoeopathic practice--the treatment of bites and stings.
Bites and stings by venomous creatures are a major health hazard worldwide, contributing to both morbidity and mortality. In Australia, bites or stings were found to be the third most common cause of injury in the 2001 National Health Survey, with 1% of respondents indicating they had a bite or sting in the previous 4 weeks which required medical attention (3). In a 1998 study, 54% of calls to Australian Poisons Information Centres reported envenoming cases were due to spider bites, 40% calls reported insect stings and 3% calls reported snake bites (4).
Bites and stings differ in the means by which the victim becomes envenomated. In a bite, venom is injected using a mouth-derived organ such as fangs. Venoms injected in bites have primarily evolved in order to deal with prey, and the action is usually paralytic with consequent tissue destruction or death (5).
In stings, venom is injected using a posterior pin-like organ such as a sting. Venoms injected in stings have evolved primarily in order for protection, and the venom action in stings is usually associated with immediate pain and is usually not deadly. Worldwide, honeybee (Apis mellifera) stings account for the most common animal sting and wasp stings from all species are the most common human envenomation (5). These stings can cause significant pain and discomfort with death in susceptible individuals usually due to anaphylactic reactions.
Venomous bites originate from two major groups of fauna in Australia, snakes and spiders (4). Elapid snakes (front-fanged venomous land snakes) are the most important group medically, and most Australian snakes belong to this group. In 1998 it was estimated that 3,000 snake bites occurred in Australia each year (4); and this is likely to increase as humans encroach further into the habitat of snakes. Brown snakes are the most common cause of snake bites in Australia and the leading cause of deaths from snake bites, causing 11 of 18 deaths in the period 1981-1991 and 6 of 12 in the period 1992-1994 (6).
Redback and funnel-web spiders, both capable of lethal bites, are often found in close contact with human habitation (eg garden sheds, under outdoor furniture, in gardens) and the potential for bites is consequently high. There are no current Australia-wide statistics regarding spider bites, as they are not a notifiable medical emergency. However, it has been estimated that approximately 2,000 people are bitten each year by redback spiders and up to 30-40 people are bitten each year by funnel-web spiders (7). Antivenoms for both spiders are now commonly used to minimise effects of spider venom and prevent mortality. Since 1979 there have been no reported deaths in Australia due to spider bites.
There are currently no reports in the literature discussing the use of homoeopathic remedies in the treatment of bites and stings. In this study, we sought to investigate the current practice of Australian homoeopathic practitioners with regards to the treatment of bites and stings.
Materials and Methods
Four hundred and sixty questionnaires were randomly distributed by a combination of mail and email to homoeopathic practitioners who are members of the Australian Register of Homeopaths (AROH). This Register includes members of the Australian Association of Professional Homoeopaths (AAPH), the Australian Homoeopathic Association (AHA) and the Professional Association of Classical Homeopaths (PACH), and others practitioners listed in the database of classical homoeopaths maintained by Steven Waldstein (www.homeopathyhome.com).
A questionnaire was designed to gather information about current practices with respect to treatments of bites and stings. Questions related to actual and potential treatment of various bites and stings, details of homoeopathic remedy used and the indication for such use and perceived success of treatment and whether follow up was required. In addition, demographic data including years of practice, training and number of patients seen was collected to provide a context for responses. All questionnaire responses were anonymous and the project had the approval of the Charles Sturt University Ethics in Human Research Committee.
Data was coded and entered into SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). Both descriptive and inferential statistics were calculated for the variables with p< 0.05 deemed a statistically significant difference between groups.
The response rate for this survey was 7.6% (n=35). Of the respondents, 74.3% (n=26) were female and 25.7% (n=9) were male. Surveys were returned from practitioners from all states and territories, with the majority received from NSW (Table 1).
The number of years in practice reported by respondents ranged from 0-26 years. The average number of years in practice by respondents was 11.3 years [+ or -] 8.4 years. The median number of patient visits per year was 699, with a range of 30-2,080.
More experienced practitioners tended to report a greater number of patient visits per year (p<0.01). As expected, full-time practitioners reported a greater number of patient visits per year (average = 1,500 visits/year) compared to part-time practitioners (average = 407 visits/year).
Willingness To Use Homoeopathic Remedies For Bites And Stings
Practitioners were asked whether they would consider, or if they would not ever consider, using homoeopathic remedies to treat different examples of bites and stings, including spider, snakes, bees and wasps. As illustrated in Table 2, the majority of practitioners indicated that they would consider treating a range of spider bites, snake bites and insect stings.
Practitioners who expressed a willingness to treat one kind of snake or arthropod bite or sting frequently indicated they would treat similar bites or stings. In particular, there is a positive correlation between practitioners who would consider treating funnel web spider bites and practitioners who would consider treating tiger snake bites (p<0.01), brown snake bites (p<0.01), taipan bites (p<0.01), black snake bites (p<0.01), death adder bites (p<0.01) and sea snake bites (p<0.01).
Frequency Of Treatment Of Bites And Stings
Thirty-two respondents (91.4%) reported treating different types of envenomations. Bee and wasp stings, and whitetail spider bites were the most common envenomations with 93.3% having treated bee stings, 84.6% wasp stings and 81.8% white tail spider bites.
Only 6.7 % (n=2) respondents never treated a bee sting, with 43.3% (n=13) treating bee stings on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Similarly, 38.5% (n=10) of respondents treated wasp stings on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and only 15.4% (n=4) respondents never treated a hornet or wasp sting. Treatment of hornet stings was less frequent, with 64.7% (n=11) respondents never having treated a hornet or wasp sting and 23.6% (n=4) of respondents never treated hornet or wasp stings on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.
It is apparent that most practitioners surveyed had never, or rarely, treated snake bites (Table 3). No practitioner reported having treated a sea snake or taipan bite, and only a single practitioner reported treating a tiger snake, brown snake or black snake bite.
An increased number of homoeopathic practitioners reported treating spider bites, especially white tail spider bites. While no respondent treated a funnel web spider bite (n=21) and 81.8% (n=18) respondents had never treated a redback spider bite, white tail spider bites were treated weekly or monthly by 22.7% respondents (n=5). Only 18.2% (n=4) respondents reported never treating a white tail spider bite.
Treatments Used For Bites And Stings
Respondents were asked to name all remedies they had prescribed for bee and wasp bites. For bee stings, a number of remedies were used, though the majority prescribed Apis mellifica (96.4%, n =27) and/or Ledum palustre (25.7%, n= 9) (Table 4). Apis mellifica and/or Ledum were also the most common reported remedies used for the treatment of wasp stings (65.2%, n=15 and 52.2%, n=12 respectively). Prescription of Apis mellifica and Ledum palustre was based on symptoms of redness, typical swelling, pain or a combination of these symptoms.
Respondents also reported remedies prescribed for white tail spider bites (Table 4). Eleven different remedies had been used, however the majority of respondents named Whitetail spider nosode (38.9%, n=7) and/or Ledum palustre (22.2%, n=4). Indicative symptoms included skin reddening, severe pain, boil/gangrene formation and cognitive changes.
All remedies used in the treatment of bee stings were perceived as successful (n=26), with 53.8% (n=14) of practitioners reporting perceived success as 'excellent'. The majority of respondents also reported success in the treatment of wasp stings (93.8%, n=15) and white tail spider bites (94.1%, n=16).
Of all respondents who stated they had treated envenomations (n=32), 68.8% (n=22) claimed that no further homoeopathic or orthodox treatment was required after homoeopathic treatment of envenomations, while 5 respondents (15.6%) indicated that complementary or conventional follow up treatment was necessary.
Bites and stings vary in severity from mild bee stings to lethal snake bites with the latter a significant problem in tropical countries; particularly where access to anti-venom is limited by distance or poverty or where human populations encroach on snake habitats.
While serious envenomation (eg snakebite) is an emergency for which hospitalisation and treatment with anti-venom is normally required, minor stings and some bites do not normally require urgent treatment and may be treated by a range of substances which reduce the symptoms of pain and inflammation.
While there are few literature reports on the use of homoeopathy in these cases, anecdotal reports are that homoeopathic treatments may be of benefit. Further, the data from a range of studies examining the effects of homoeopathic remedies on the cells of the immune system and inflammatory processes support this anecdotal use (8). It was therefore of interest to explore the use of homoeopathy for the treatments of bites and stings.
The results of this pilot study show that homoeopathic treatments are being used in Australia for the treatment a range of envenomations with a high level of perceived success. The most common stings seen were those caused by bee, wasps and hornets. Although reports of success was a self-reported measure and therefore open to bias and recall error, it nevertheless indicates an overall positive view of practitioners towards treatment success.
Furthermore, although treatments are individualised this study has found that similar remedies are used for similar envenomations. As the practitioners in this study did not verify the source of the bite/sting, or in fact whether the bite/sting resulted in injection of venom, we cannot conclusively link a particular remedy with a bite/sting source. However treatments were targeted to the symptoms displayed by the patients rather than bite/sting source thus providing an insight into the use of these remedies for specific symptom profiles.
Although envenomations are likely to account for only a small number of patients seen by homoeopathic practitioners per year, the homoeopaths surveyed in this study indicated they would consider treating a range of envenomations. This study also indicates, however, that practitioners are less willing to treat those bite types with high risk of death as an outcome (eg snake bites).
Interestingly, those practitioners willing to treat the most life-threatening of the spider bites (ie funnel web spider bites) were also those willing to treat snake bites.
One of the significant limitations of this study was the small sample size. One reason for this may have been the form of questionnaire distribution (email); however it may also reflect reluctance by practitioners to disclose their practices or to be involved in the study. As no contact was made with respondents the specific reasons for the lack of response is unknown. A further limitation is the reliance on practitioner/ patient identification of bite/sting source. Nevertheless this work demonstrates that there is potential for further research in this area, particularly in the use of Apis and Ledum for bee and wasp stings. It is suggested that future research be directed to more fully describing the use of homoeopathic treatments for bites and stings and that those treatments viewed as particularly efficacious be considered for more detailed clinical investigation.
(1) World Health Organisation. Legal status of traditional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine. Geneva: WHO, 2001.
(2) Cohen MM, Penman S, Pirotta MV, Da Costa C. The integration of complementary therapies in Australian general practice. J Altern Complement Med 2005;11(6):995-1004.
(3) Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Health Survey: Injuries, Australia, Catalogue no. 4384.0; 2003.
(4) White J. Envenoming and antivenom use in Australia. Toxicon 1998;36(11):1483-1492.
(5) Vetter RS, Visscher MS, Kirk P. Bites and stings of medically important venomous arthropods. Int J Dermatol 1998;37(7):481-496.
(6) Willmott N, Gaffney PJ, Masci P, Whitaker AN. A novel serine protease inhibitor from the Australian brown snake, Pseudonaja textilis textilis: Inhibition kinetics. Fibrinolysis 1995;9:1-8.
(7) Sutherland SK, Nolch G. Dangerous Australian animals. Melbourne: Hyland House, 2000.
(8) Bellavite P, Conforti A, Pontarollo F, Ortolani R. Immunology and homeopathy. 2. Cells of the immune system and inflammation. eCAM 2006;3(1):13-24.
Geoffrey Vargas BSc, BMedSc (Hon) is a homoeopathic practitioner with interests in the pursuit of understanding the true dynamics of the world around us using medicine, science and homoeopathy. School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Robyn J Kewley BSc, PhD is a Lecturer in Biochemistry, School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Jenny M Wilkinson BSc, PhD is Senior Lecturer in Physiology and researcher in complementary medicines. School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Correspondence: Dr Jenny M Wilkinson, School of Biomedical Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2678 Australia. Telephone (02) 6933 4019, fax: (02) 6933 2587, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1. The demographic distribution of homeopathic practitioners participating in the study. State or Territory NSW ACT SA Vic Qld Number of 19 2 3 6 3 respondents % of respondents 54.3 5.7 8.6 17.1 8.6 State or Territory WA Tas NT Total Number of 1 1 0 35 respondents % of respondents 2.9 2.9 0 100% Table 2. The willingness of homeopathic practitioners to treat bites and stings caused by different venomous creatures. Percentages refer to proportion of respondents within each creature type. Number (percentage) of practitioners in each response group Type of Would Would never venomous consider consider Did not creature treating treating answer Redback spider 17 (48.6%) 1 (2.9%) 17 (48.6%) Funnel web spider 13 (37.1%) 4 (11.4) 18 (51.4%) White tail spider 5 (14.3%) 1 (2.9%) 29 (82.9%) Tiger snake 13 (37.1%) 5 (14.3%) 17 (48.6%) Brown snake 13 (37.1%) 5 (14.3%) 17 (48.6%) Taipan 12 (34.3%) 6 (17.1%) 17 (48.6%) Black snake 12 (34.3%) 6 (17.1%) 17 (48.6%) Death adder 12 (34.3%) 6 (17.1%) 17 (48.6%) Sea Snake 12 (34.3%) 6 (17.1%) 17 (48.6%) Bee 8 (22.9%) 0 27 (77.1%) Hornet 16 (45.7%) 0 19 (54.3%) Wasp 9 (25.7%) 0 26 (74.3%) Table 3. Frequency of homeopathic treatments for bites and stings. The number of practitioners who reported treating a bite or sting for a particular venomous creature at a particular time frequency (or never) are indicated. The last column indicates the number of respondents who indicated a response. Daily Weekly Monthly Yearly Redback spider 0 0 0 1 (4.5%) Funnel web spider 0 0 0 0 White tail spider 0 3 2 5 (13.6%) (9.1%) (22.7%) Tiger snake 0 0 1 0 (4.5%) Brown snake 0 0 1 0 (4.5%) Taipan 0 0 0 0 Black snake 0 0 1 0 (4.8%) Death adder 0 0 0 0 Sea Snake 0 0 0 0 Bee 9 0 4 10 (30%) (13.3%) (33.3%) Hornet 2 0 2 1 (11.8%) (11.8%) (5.9%) Wasp 8 0 2 6 (30.8%) (7.7%) (23.1%) Less than Never yearly treated Total Redback spider 3 18 22 (13.6%) (81.8%) Funnel web spider 0 21 21 (100%) White tail spider 8 4 22 (36.4%) (18.2%) Tiger snake 0 21 22 (95.5%) Brown snake 0 21 22 (95.5%) Taipan 0 21 21 (100%) Black snake 1 19 21 (4.8%) (90.4%) Death adder 1 19 20 (5%) (95%) Sea Snake 0 20 20 (100%) Bee 5 2 30 (16.7%) (6.7%) Hornet 1 11 17 (5.9%) (64.7%) Wasp 6 4 26 (23.1%) (15.4%) Table 4. Treatments used for bee stings, wasp stings and white tail spider bites. The possible remedies which were named by respondents for the treatment of bee stings (n=28), wasp stings (n=23) and white tail spider bites (n=18) are indicated. The % of respondents who named a particular remedy is also indicated. White tail Homeopathic remedy Bee stings Wasp stings spider bites Apis mellifica 96.4% (n=27) 65.2% (n=15) 5.6% (n=1) Ledum palustre 35.7% (n=10) 52.2% (n=12) 22.2% (n=4) Hypericum perforatum 3.6% (n=1) 4.3% (n=1) Cantharis 3.6% (n=1) 8.7% (n=2) Rhus toxicodendron 3.6% (n=1) 0 5.6% (n=1) Aconite napellus 3.6% (n=1) 4.3% (n=1) Urtica urens 3.6% (n=1) 0.00% Arnica montana 3.6% (n=1) 0 5.6% (n=1) Veratrum album 3.6% (n=1) 0 Belladonna 0 4.3% (n=1) Vespa Crabro 0 4.3% (n=1) Whitetail spider nosode 0 0 38.9% (n=7) Latrodectus hasselti 0 0 11.1% (n=2) Lachesis muta 0 0 5.6% (n=1) Tarentula hispanica 0 0 5.6% (n=1) Hepar sulphuris calcareum 0 0 5.6% (n=1) Phosphorus 0 0 5.6% (n=1) Nitric acidum 0 0 5.6% (n=1)
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|Title Annotation:||Original Research|
|Author:||Vargas, Geoffrey; Kewley, Robyn J.; Wilkinson, Jenny M.|
|Publication:||Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society|
|Article Type:||Clinical report|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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