Snake bites are an unfortunate reality of living in Australia, and our country is one of the only ones in the world home to more venomous snakes than non-venomous species.
With that in mind, it pays to know how to treat a snake bite.
Before we get into it let’s just say: forget everything you’ve seen in the movies about dealing with snake bites! Hollywood definitely didn’t get it right on this one, and you need to make sure you:
- Never wash the venom off the skin
- Never cut the bitten area
- Never try and suck venom from the bite
- Never use a tourniquet and
- Never try to catch the snake
Snakes and Aussies
According to the Environment and Heritage Group – New South Wales, Australia is home to a wide variety of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. There are approximately 140 species of land snakes and 32 recorded species of sea snakes. While 100 of these snakes are venomous, only 12 are likely to cause a wound that could be fatal.
The most dangerous snakes in Australia belong to the front-fanged group, which includes the tiger snake, brown snake, death adder, mulga or king brown snake, and a few species of sea snake.
The other snake groups found in Australia are the solid-toothed non-venomous snakes (such as pythons, blind snakes and file snakes) and venomous rear-fanged snakes (such as the brown tree snake and mangrove snakes).
According to the Guardian, “More than half Australian snake bite deaths since 2000 occurred at victim’s home.”
According to the article:
- Of the 35 deaths recorded by the National Coronial Information Service, 16 were a direct result of snake bites.
- Other causes of death included multiple organ failure, intra-cerebral haemorrhage, cerebral hypoxia or anoxia, and cardiac arrest.
- Nearly three-quarters (71%) of victims were male.
- Seven people – one-fifth of the total fatalities – were reported to have been bitten while attempting to pick up or kill the snake.
- 33% of victims were bitten on their foot or ankle.
- Nearly three-quarters (74%) reached hospitals.
According to Snake Catchers Adelaide via Facebook, “an eastern brown snake made its way into a bathroom at North Plympton yesterday. Snakes tend to look for coolness on hot days and can make their way inside homes under doors and usually go for tiled areas like bathrooms, laundries and under fridges…”
Snake bites are a serious problem in Australia, with an average of two people dying each year. Most incidents occur during the warmer months, when snakes are more active, and more than half of the bites occur in or around the victim’s home.
The brown snake, found across most of eastern Australia, is the most dangerous, responsible for 23 deaths. While it is often characterized as aggressive, it is actually just defending itself. To avoid being bitten, it is important to be aware of where snakes are commonly found and to avoid them. If you do see a snake, stay calm and back away slowly. If you are bitten, immediately call for medical help and try to keep the affected area still. By following these simple precautions, you can help avoid becoming a statistic.
Signs and Symptoms Of A Snake Bite
One thing to be aware of when it comes to snake bites is snakes are incredibly fast, and people may not always be aware that they have been bitten by a snake. There may be puncture marks, bleeding or scratches, but just because there are no signs, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Symptoms of a snake bite usually develop within an hour following the bite, although for some the onset time might be faster. Keep an eye out for:
- Difficulty seeing
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling drowsy
- Difficulty speaking and swallowing
How To Treat A Snake Bite
If you suspect a snake bite, do not wait until symptoms have begun to set in. Begin treatment immediately by following these steps.
Assess The Situation
Assessing the situation is best done using the DRSABCD method. This means making sure the patient, yourself and others are safe from Danger. Checking the patient for a Response. Making, or asking someone else to make, a call to Triple Zero (000) to Send for help. Make sure the patient’s Airway is open and clear. Checking that their Breathing is normal, placing them in the recovery position if it is, and if not starting CPR and later if needed Defibrillation.
Recovery Position & Treatment
If your patient is responsive and is breathing normally, you can put them into the recovery position while you treat the snake bite. The recovery position ensures that the patient can breathe easily, but it should only be attempted if it will not hinder access to the bitten area. Once the patient is comfortable, it’s time to treat the bite. Remember, with any suspected snake bite an ambulance should already have been called at this point.
Bandaging and Wrapping The Area
Snake bites happen most often on the limbs of the body, that is the arms and legs. When treating a snake bite it’s important that the patient knows to keep as still as possible. Start by wrapping the bite site in a broad crepe bandage as soon as you can after the bite. Following that, wrap the entire limb starting above the fingers or toes, moving upwards as far as you can go (including the bite). This bandage should be applied as firmly as possible, but the blood supply to the limb should not be stopped. It is not the intention here to halt the blood supply.
Supporting The Limb
Now that the limb is wrapped it’s time to fully immobilise the bandaged area. This can be done with splints. Make sure the patient does not move during this process. Keep track of the time that the patient reported being bitten, and the time you applied the bandage, as the paramedics will want this information when they arrive on the scene. It’s important that you stay with the patient, and regularly check their fingers/toes to ensure circulation is maintained.
With something as stressful as a snake bite, shock management is an inherent part of the treatment even at a first-air level. It’s important that the patient is reassured and kept as calm as possible. It may also be a good idea to loosen any tight clothing, particularly around the waist, neck and chest. Keep a careful eye on the patient, keeping them warm with a blanket, and allowing them to have a small amount of water. It’s also important that you keep a close eye on their breathing, pulse and skin colour, immediately placing them in the recovery position if they have trouble breathing, lose consciousness, or appear as though they are going to vomit.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is a lifesaving technique that can be used in the event of a snake bite. If the person bitten by the snake is not breathing, you will need to perform CPR. The first step is to call 911 and then to check for signs of life. If the person is not breathing, you will need to provide chest compressions. Chest compressions are an essential part of CPR and can help to restart the heart. If you are not trained in CPR, it is important to find someone who is. CPR can be the difference between life and death in the event of a snake bite.
Do you know other effective treatments for snake bites?
For More Information:
All First Aid information in this article was sourced from the St. John Ambulance Australia website. You can read more about First Aid treatments and courses here. Remember that in an emergency always dial Triple Zero (000) for assistance.
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by the misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at the time of publication.
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/