Australia may be home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes, but snake bites are not as common as one might expect. Australia sees around 3,000 snake bite cases every year, but thankfully we typically only have 2 deaths annually on an average.
Although the numbers might not seem substantial, the risk factors are not significant. Snakes may be venomous but unless threatened, they are typically not aggressive. In a scenario where you and a snake may have come face to face, the snake’s first response will be to hide and not attack. However, not often will your encounter with a snake be direct.
Snakes are stealthy, and you may unconsciously or accidently present a threatening situation to snake in which case, it may retaliate. Therefore, knowing the first aid treatment for a snake bite is crucial to mitigate mortal peril.
What is the first aid treatment for a snake bite?
If you happen to be bitten by a snake, it’s essential to get emergency first aid treatment for snake bite as quickly as possible. Snake first aid treatment consists of multiple steps to make sure the risks of fatality are reduced at a maximum. According to St John WA, the following steps for first aid treatment of snake bite are paramount:
Call 000 as soon as possible. Lay the snake bite victim down and do not let them move unless there could be danger around the victim. Ensure the patient is well hydrated to reduce the risk of acute renal failure. It is important to provide reassurance to prevent panic and try and reduce any anxiety the victim may have.
Wrap a stretchable bandage or cloth on the entire leg starting at the toes or if the hand if the bite starts at the arm. It is preferable to use a wide bandage (at least 7.5cm wide). If the bandage does not cover the entire leg or arm, start with a new bandage at the point the last bandage ends until the entire leg or arm is fully covered. Make sure to leave the tips of the toes/fingers out to check on circulation. The bandage should be firm enough to reduce movement but not to compress blood flow.
It can be helpful for emergency services personnel if you mark with a pen or anything readily available the bite site so they can easily find it once the entire limb has been covered.
For bites on the leg and the arm, make sure to splint or use a hard linen material. Then strap the legs together with slings or a strip of rigid material to prevent movement. Once the bandage is applied, try not to remove it. Continue to provide reassurance and make sure the victim is comfortable until the arrival of emergency services.
Additional tips to deal with the snake bite:
- Restrain from washing the bite site.
- Do not attempt to lacerate the bite site to get the venom out the limb.
- Never try to suck the venom out of the limb.
- Do not apply a tourniquet to the limb for it could compress the flow of blood.
- Prevent moving the victim unless in immediate danger.
- Do not kill or attempt to pick up the snake. Take a picture if you can but don’t waste time hunting it down.
Are snake bites fatal?
Snake bites may not be usually common, but they can be fatal. Some snake bites, such as those from non venomous snakes don’t put the victim in critical danger. Since these bites occur from non venomous snakes, critical clinical implications are rare.
The most fatal snake bites are those caused by venomous snakes, in which case management needs to be swift. Snake venom can be lethal, and if the victim cannot seek immediate medical care, it could become a matter of life and death.
The problem is you might not immediately be able to identify what type of snake bit you.
Snake venom consists of a variety of toxins that could lead to systemic haemorrhage, incoagulable blood, paralysis, rhabdomyolysis, and acute kidney injury. Some examples of toxins and the damage they cause in humans have been listed below:
- Cytotoxins: These toxins result in swelling and tissue damage at the site of bite.
- Haemorrhagins: Known to damage blood vessels.
- Anti-clotting agents: Prevents clotting of blood.
- Neurotoxins: These toxins damage the nervous system and can cause paralysis.
- Myotoxins: Myotoxins breakdown muscles.
What are the different types of snake bites?
Snake bites are majorly of two categories: dry bites and venomous bites. Dry bites are those which have been inflicted by non venomous snakes. On the other hand, venomous bites result from venomous snakes.
While dry bites are not lethal, they should be attended to and cared for with the same urgency as venomous bites since from the apparent symptoms, it may not always be easy to differentiate between dry bites and venomous bites. After applying first aid treatment for a snake bite, it is advisable to call 000 for an ambulance.
Symptoms of Dry Bites
Dry bites do not result in the snake’s venom entering the body, and the victim majorly experiences pain in places where the snake has bitten them. Swelling and redness around the area which has been bitten is also common in dry bites.
Symptoms of Venomous Bites
Symptoms of venomous snake bites are severe, because venomous snake bites lead to the injection of snake venom inside your body. Snake venoms are lethal, and can cause excruciating pain to the victim. According to Healthdirect Australia, symptoms of venomous bites include:
- Severe pain around the bite or the wound (often experienced after a certain time when the snake has bitten)
- Swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite
- Bite marks on the skin — these might be obvious puncture wounds or almost invisible small scratches
- Swollen and tender glands in the armpit or groin of the limb that has been bitten
- Tingling, stinging, burning or abnormal feelings around the skin
- Feeling anxious
- Nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick)
- Blurred vision
- Breathing difficulties
- Problems swallowing
- Stomach pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Blood oozing from the gums or the site of the snake bite
- Paralysis, coma or even death
If you experience any of the symptoms above, please call 000 to seek emergency medical care.
How to make sure the snake is identified?
Australia is the natural habitat of a variety of snakes. Although every species of snake has its own characteristics, visual identification from merely bite marks is unreliable. Hence, medical practitioners rely upon analytical facts to identify the snake.
The most reliable way to identify what kind of snake the person was bitten by is to conduct chemical analysis of the snake venom. In this regard, having samples of the snake venom is necessary.
Healthdirect Australia suggests that clothes which the victim was wearing during the accident should not be washed as there may be traces of the venom. Venom deposited on the skin around the site of bite may also serve as a good source for sample, hence wounds are suggested to not be washed with water. People attending to the victim should refrain from sucking the venom from the wound.
Luckily in Australia, highly effective snake detection kits are available that facilitate accurate venom detection and enable medical caregivers to administer precise antivenoms against snake bites.
Do all types of snake bite treated by antivenom?
Not all types of snake bites are treated by anti venoms. Dry bites, in which the snake’s venom does not enter the body, do not require antivenom as a treatment method. However, if someone is bitten by a venomous snake, treatment with antivenom is necessary to save the life of the victim.
There are about 100 different types of venomous snakes in Australia,but only 12 of them have venom that could put people under mortal danger. In Australia, antivenoms are available for all snake venoms. Thankfully this means that annual deaths from snakebites have reduced significantly. Additionally, because antivenom treatment can be expensive, snake bite treatment costs are covered by Medicare, so you don’t have to worry about recurring expenses when seeking emergency care.
Snakes are quiet creatures, but it doesn't make them any less dangerous. It is illegal to kill snakes in Australia (there are exceptions for self defence). Most snake bite incidents occur when people hurt snakes unintentionally, or when they try to kill and capture snakes to get rid of possible cases of infestation. Snakes will retaliate when they feel threatened. As such, when you encounter a snake, it’s best to avoid them rather than chasing them down.
To protect your family and pets, you can install electronic snake deterrent devices that keep away snakes from your property by emitting vibrations that annoy snakes.