Australia is home to 20 of the world’s most deadly 25 species of snakes. This staggering statistic means that you, your family, a neighbour or pet could encounter one of the world’s most poisonous snakes when you go on a bushwalk or even in your backyard.
Our endless summer means that snake bite incidents are still occurring, and St John Ambulance (Qld) is recommending all Queenslanders familiarise themselves with the correct first aid treatment for treating snake bites.
St John Ambulance South West and Central Queensland Regional Manager Leo McNamara said there were many myths involving first aid treatment for snake bites, and it was important for Queenslanders to know fact from fiction, and always follow the DRSABCD action plan (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR, and Defibrillation).
- Do NOT wash the area of the bite.
- Do NOT incise or cut the bite.
- Apply a pressure bandage as soon as possible, then immobilise the bandaged limb using splints.
Use the "pressure-immobilisation" technique recommended by the Australian Resuscitation Council - see their guidelines, or the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.
The lymphatic system is responsible for the systemic spread of most venoms. This can be reduced by the application of a firm bandage (as firm as you would put on a sprained ankle) starting just above the fingers or toes and moving upwards on the bitten limb as far as can be reached (90% of snake bites occur on a limb).
Mark the site of the bite on the bandage and write down as much information as you can, such as the time of the bite, a description of the snake and when the bandage was applied.
Immobility is best attained by application of a splint or sling (if possible), using a bandage or whatever to hand to absolutely minimise all limb movement, reassurance and immobilisation.
- Where possible, bring transportation to the patient. Don't allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Walking should be prevented. Ensure the casualty is relaxed as much as possible; reassure them that everything will be ok - this will slow down the time it takes for the venom to go through the body.
Leo said common symptoms of a snake bite victim included a headache, nausea, drooping eyelids, drowsiness and problems speaking.
“Always call triple zero ‘000’ for an ambulance,” he said.
Snake bite – the Australian statistics
- Approximately 3,000 cases of snake bite each year
- Approximately 500 require treatment with anti-venom and hospitalisation
- 2-3 deaths per year
- Over the last 25 years the death rate has dramatically decreased due to improved first aid treatment, improved identification and treatment with anti-venom.
- About half the deaths are due to bites from the brown snake; the rest mostly from tiger snake, taipan and death adder. While some deaths occur soon after the bite, it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite.
Source: http://www.anaesthesia.med.usyd.edu.au/resources/venom/snakebite.html; accessed 26 April 2018
Signs and symptoms of snakebite
Signs are not always visible and, in some cases, the patient may not have felt anything.
Symptoms may not appear for an hour or more after the person has been bitten. Depending
on the type of snake, signs and symptoms may include some or all of the following:
- Immediate or delayed pain at the bite site
- Swelling, bruising or local bleeding
- Bite marks (usually on a limb) that may vary from obvious puncture wounds to scratches that may be almost invisible
- Swollen and tender glands in the groin or armpit of the bitten limb
- Faintness, dizziness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Oozing of blood from the bite site or gums
- Double or blurred vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Difficulty in speaking or swallowing
- Limb weakness or paralysis
- Difficulty in breathing
- Occasionally, initial collapse or confusion followed by partial or complete recovery.
Snake bite management
- DRSABCD (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR and Defibrillation)
- Rest and reassure the casualty
- Pressure immobilisation bandage
- Seek medical aid urgently
- Wash venom off skin
- Cut the bitten area
- Try and suck venom out
- Use tourniquet
- Attempt to catch snake
- Allow casualty to walk
These first aid tips are not a substitute for first aid training. St John Ambulance (Qld) offers a range of first aid courses including CPR, Provide First Aid, Mental Health First Aid, Resuscitation and Workplace First Aid throughout Queensland.
For more information visit www.stjohnqld.com.au or call 1300 ST JOHN (78 5646).
Photo opportunities and interviews are available upon request.
1. Australian Resuscitation Council Guideline 9.4.8 Page 1-4, August 2011, Envenomation - Pressure Immobilisation Technique, accessed 27.4.2018
2. http://stjohn.org.au/first-aid-facts, snake bite, accessed 27.4.2018.
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