Following teaching a First Aid course yesterday where we had a visit from a juvenile brown snake in the classroom, I thought it timely to remind everyone about Snake Bite treatment.
Australia has some 140 species of land snake, and around 32 species of sea snakes that have been recorded in Australian waters.
There are around 100 Australian snakes that are venomous, although only 12 are likely to inflict a wound that could kill you. These include Taipans, Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, Death Adders, Black snakes, Copperhead snakes, Rough Scaled snakes as well as some sea snakes.
Most snake bites happen when people try to kill or capture them. If you come across a snake, don’t panic. Back away to a safe distance and let it move away. Snakes often want to escape when disturbed.
All snake bites must be treated as potentially life-threatening. If you are bitten by a snake, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
Different types of snake bites
A dry bite is when the snake strikes but no venom is released. Dry bites can be painful and may result in swelling and redness around the area of the bite. This occurs because you don’t look like something the snake wants to eat.
Because you can’t tell if the bite is a dry bite, always assume that you have been injected with venom and manage the bite as a medical emergency. Once medically assessed, there is usually no need for further treatment, such as with antivenoms. Many snake bites in Australia do not result in envenomation, and so they can be managed without antivenom.
Venomous bites are when the snake bites and releases venom (poison) into a wound. Snake venom contains poisons which are designed to stun, numb, or kill other animals.
Symptoms of a venomous bite include:
- severe pain around the bite, this might come on later
- 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 of the skin
- feeling anxious
- nausea or vomiting
- blurred vision
- breathing difficulties
- problems swallowing
- stomach pain
- irregular heartbeat
- muscle weakness
- blood oozing from the site or gums
- paralysis, coma or death
In Australia, there are around two deaths a year from venomous snake bites.
Identification of venomous snakes can be made from venom present on clothing or the skin using a so called ‘venom detection’ kit. For this reason, do not wash or suck the bite or discard clothing.
DO NOT attempt to kill the snake for purposes of identification, as medical services do not rely on visual identification of the snake species regardless.
Antivenom is available for all venomous Australian snake bites.
First aid for snake bites
For all snake bites, provide emergency care including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if needed. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage and keep the person calm and as still as possible until medical help arrives.
Avoid washing the bite area because any venom left on the skin can help identify the snake.
DO NOT apply a tourniquet, wash, cut or suck the venom.
Pressure immobilisation bandage
A pressure immobilisation bandage is recommended for anyone bitten by a venomous snake. This involves firmly bandaging the area of the body involved, such as the arm or leg, and keeping the person calm and still until medical help arrives.
Follow these steps to apply a bandage using the Pressure Immobilisation Technique (PIT):
- Start at the bite itself, wrapping around it three (3) times. It should be tight, and you should be unable to slide a finger between the bandage and the skin. Then continue down the limb till the very tips of the fingers are showing. Continue back up the limb until reaching the armpit or groin. Splint the limb including joints on either side of the bite.
- Keep the person and the limb completely at rest. Mark the site of the bite with a coin over the bite prior to bandaging or write a cross on the bandage with a pen and the time of envenomation.
Snake bites can be quite painful. Occasionally some people have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to being bitten. In this case, the whole body can react within minutes which can lead to anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.
Symptoms may include:
- difficulty talking
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or wheezing
- swelling of the mouth, throat or tongue
- itching – usually around your eyes, ears, lips, throat or roof of the mouth
- flushing (feeling hot and red)
- stomach cramps, nausea &/or vomiting
- feeling weak
- collapse or unconsciousness.
Call triple zero (000) from a landline or 112 from a mobile for an ambulance. If the person has a ‘personal action plan’ to manage a known severe allergy, they may need assistance in following their plan. This may include administering adrenaline to the person via an autoinjector (an Epipen®) if one is available.
Adapted from an article at www.healthsure.com.au