Identification and Treatment of Snake Bites
There are hundreds of species of snakes around the world but only a low percentage of these are venomous. However, given the shock, distress and panic that most of us would feel on unexpectedly encountering a snake, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to easily identify whether the snake we were facing was venomous or not!
Learning and teaching ‘snake awareness’ to you and your family is an important part of protecting you and them from snakes. This awareness of snakes and snake bites has a three pronged approach:
- Be aware of the dangers posed by snakes and take steps to avoid them
- As far as you are able, ‘proof’ your home and garden against snakes
- Know the symptoms of a snake bite and the appropriate treatment
Types of Venomous Snake Bites
The danger from snake bites and the toxicity of venom that a snake injects in to its victim varies from species to species.
The recommended first aid for snake bites will also vary according to species and this underlines the importance of being able to place venomous snakes in to groups according to the properties of their venom. The required treatment for a snake bite is defined according to whether the venom is cytotoxic, haemotoxic or neurotoxic and the wrong treatment will not only be of little or no help but could even be dangerous.
- CYTOTOXIC: An agent or process that is toxic to cells and suppresses cell function or causes cell death.
- HAEMOTOXIC: An agent or process that kills red blood cells and prevents clotting resulting in internal and external bleeding.
- NEUROTOXIC: An agent or process that is destructive or deadly to nerves or nervous tissue
The venom from Adders and Vipers is Cytotoxic
- Generally two puncture marks at the site of the bite
- Bite causes instant pain with immediate swelling, bruising and blistering
- Symptoms can include nausea and dizziness
- Immobilise the limb but do not restrict the blood flow
The venom from Mambas and Cobras is Neurotoxic
- Generally two puncture wounds at the site of the bite
- Bite can feel more like a sting and there is little or no bruising and swelling
- Symptoms include feeling confused, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Immobilise the limb and do restrict blood flow between the bite and the heart
- Administer CPR until Medical help is available
The venom from Boomslangs and Vine snakes is Haemotoxic
- Sometimes puncture wounds can be seen at site of the bite
- Bite is generally not very painful but within one hour copious bleeding is likely to occur from the bite wound and any other wounds cuts or scratches the victim may have
- Symptoms can include a severe headache, nausea and vomiting
- Whilst it is helpful to restrict the blood and lymphatic flow it is important not to cause bruising as this could lead to subsequent bleeding under the skin
If Venom is spat in to a person’s eyes use any liquid available, preferably a neutral one such as water or milk – but anything at all will do - and flush out the eye.
Do’s and Don’ts of Treating a Snake Bite
Symptoms usually manifest themselves reasonably soon after a snake bite so observation of the victim is extremely important. If no symptoms have occurred within less than half an hour of the bite then indications would be that it was not a venomous snake, it failed to inject any venom or the snake was very old and had little or no venom left.
- Try to identify the snake; colour, size, shape of head, attacking method are all useful
- Loosen the Victim’s clothing and, if necessary, move them in to the shade
- Keep the victim calm and still; movement will increase blood flow and transport the venom to the heart much faster
- Immobilise the limb but do NOT restrict blood flow unless you are certain the bite was from a snake that delivers neurotoxic venom
- Clean and dress the wound being careful not to apply pressure and cause bruising
- Be prepared to administer CPR if necessary
- Get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible
While there can be differences of opinion as to what we should do for snake bites the consensus of opinion as to what not to do is reasonably consistent:
- Allow the victim to exercise or stress themselves
- Cut the bite or attempt to suck the venom out
- Give the victim anything to eat or drink especially alcohol
- Use potassium permanganate crystals or solution near or on the bite wound
- Use soapy water round the bite wound
- Leave pressure bandages on too long
- Leave the victim alone
- Apply ice to the wound
- Soak the affected limb in any solutions
Talk to the experts - if you would like further advice about minimising the risk of snakes in your home and garden or would like to arrange a visit by a Rentokil surveyor, call us on 1300 886 911.