First aid for bites and stings: Snakes

snake bites

Australia is home to some of the most venomous creatures in the world. Snakes, spiders, jellyfish and molluscs, such as the blue ringed octopus and cone snail, can all inflict a sting or bite that may cause significant illness and occasionally, death.

Australian venomous snakes include taipans, death adders, tiger, black, brown, mulga and copperhead snakes as well as many sea snakes. In warmer weather, the land-based snakes are out of hibernation and basking in the sun. Surprisingly, most snake attacks happen near houses, not in the bush.

Most Australian snakes are defensive by nature and will usually sense your approach and move out of the way. Most don’t approach humans unless disturbed, however, some, such as the brown snake, are fast, fierce and easily angered.

Snakebites may be painless,  and even though there may only be a light scratch or laceration, it’s important to act as quickly as possible. Blood clotting and life-threatening haemorrhages are a common result of a snakebite.

snake bites

If someone is bitten by a snake, follow these rules.

DO:

  • Apply a bandage over the bite as soon as possible.
  • Keep the bitten limb and the patient STILL.
  • Place a folded pad over the bite and apply a broad pressure bandage firmly to the limb, including over the pad on the bite site. Apply the pressure immobilisation bandage to the entire limb as far up as possible, starting just above the fingers for an arm or just above the toes for a leg.
  • Immobilise the limb with a splint (pressure-immobilisation first aid — see the instructions at the end of this article).
  • If the bite is on the trunk or torso, still apply a pressure bandage.
  • If the bite is on the head, neck or back, APPLY firm direct pressure on the bite site if possible. Do not restrict breathing, blood flow or chest movement.
  • Get the victim to a hospital or medical centre, preferably by an ambulance that has resuscitation facilities and antivenom for snakebites. It is better to keep the bitten person still and bring transport to them, rather than for them to move.

DO NOT:

  • DO NOT cut the bitten area.
  • DO NOT use a tourniquet.
  • DO NOT wash or suck the bite – traces of venom may be needed for use with venom identification kits.
  • DO NOT allow the victim to walk or move their limbs about. Carry the person on a stretcher or bring medical help and transportation to the person.
  • DO NOT remove the pressure bandage — as venom will quickly enter the bloodstream.
  • DO NOT try to catch or kill the snake – the type of snake can be identified from venom on the skin or clothes. In any case, there are new anti-venoms available that act against all types of snakebites, which can be used when the snake is unidentified.

Signs and symptoms of snake bite

Puncture marks may be visible, or a single mark or scratch.

There may also be nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, drowsiness, headache, breathing difficulty, trouble speaking or swallowing, blurry vision, fainting, confusion, weakness or difficulty moving limbs.

For more information on all bites and stings, please see our article here.

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