British woman bitten by deadly snake at Cyprus yoga retreat

Sam West
Sam West travelled to a resort near Paphos to celebrate her 40th birthday

A British tourist has described the intense “burning” pain she experienced after being bitten by a large venomous snake while practising yoga on holiday in Cyprus.

Sam West had travelled to a resort near Paphos, in western Cyprus, to celebrate her 40th birthday.

She was just about to step on to a meditation platform at the Atlantica Aphrodite Hills Hotel on April 3 when she was bitten by the 5ft-long snake, believed to be a blunt-nosed viper.

“Quickly, before I had time to react, it bit me just above my left ankle,” said Ms West, 40, from Shifnal in Shropshire, who was on holiday with her wife, Kate.

“I started to shake the snake off as I shouted that I had just been bitten. My leg was burning and throbbing, the pain was instantaneous,” she told the BBC.

Sam West's leg after being bitten by a snake
Sam West says her leg was 'burning and throbbing' after the snake bite

Ms West, who runs a hairdressing salon in Telford, was taken to hospital where doctors administered anti-venom.

She spent the next four days in intensive care and another day in a regular ward before being discharged.

She is now relying on a wheelchair to get around and has had to pay €310 (£260) a night for a hotel room with disabled access. She is hoping that her insurance company will cover the costs of the hotel and also fly her back to Britain.

Ms West said that the hotel had trimmed back some vegetation around the meditation platform and that yoga activities had been moved to a dance studio.

Her travel company, TUI, said it was liaising “directly with the guest to provide our full support”.

Blunt-nosed vipers, Macrovipera lebetinus, are found not just in Cyprus but across North Africa and the Middle East.

Blunt-nosed viper
Blunt-nosed vipers are found across North Africa and the Middle East - DEA / C. P. RICCI

In advice to British military personnel serving on the UK’s two sovereign bases on Cyprus, the Ministry of Defence says: “This strong snake can grow up to two metres long.

“It has small cat-like eyes and fangs at the front of the mouth. The viper’s venom can be toxic to humans and the victim should receive immediate first-aid and medical assistance.”

A local travel website describes the blunt-nosed viper as “the bad boy of the island’s snakes … the only potentially lethal snake in Cyprus”. It notes, however, that fatalities are extremely rare.

An average of about 40 people are hospitalised after being bitten by venomous snakes on Cyprus each year, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.

Between 2000 and 2018, there were just two deaths from snake bites, a man aged 73 and a woman aged 77.

More than 90 per cent of cases came during the warm months of April to October, with a spike in September.

“Snake bite-related deaths are very rare in the Republic of Cyprus,” the study said. “Short hospital stays indicate mostly non-severe clinical courses.”

The risk of being bitten by a venomous snake was highest around Paphos, the holiday resort in the west of the island that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, including many Britons.