Treating snakebite

Many dangerous myths surround the treatment of snakebites. The most important dos and don’ts include:

Do NOT wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom. It is extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits. 

Do NOT incise or cut the bite, or apply a high tourniquet. Cutting or incising the bite won't help. High tourniquets are ineffective and can be fatal if released. 

Do bandage firmly, splint and immobilise to stop the spread of venom. All the major medical associations recommend slowing the spread of venom by placing a folded pad over the bite area and then applying a firm bandage. It should not stop blood flow to the limb or congest the veins. Only remove the bandage in a medical facility, as the release of pressure will cause a rapid flow of venom through the bloodstream. 

Do NOT allow the person to walk or move their limbs. Use a splint or sling to minimise all limb movement. Put the patient on a stretcher or bring transportation to the patient. 

Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health or even death within a few hours. 

A new study has prompted the Royal Flying Doctor Service to reverse previous long-standing advice about the importance of identifying the colour and type of snake, saying identification is no longer necessary.

“There are around 3000 reported snakebites each year in Australia, resulting in 500 hospital admissions and an average of two fatalities,” said Tracey King, senior flight nurse at RFDS. 

 The Australian Snakebite Project involved more than 1500 patients and collated snakebite data from 2005-15. Three-quarters of the people bitten were males in their 30s. Most snake attacks occur near houses, not in the bush. Half of all bites occurred while people were out walking, with gardening and trying to catch a snake the most common other scenarios. 

In those attacks in which the snake was positively identified, the brown snake was the most common biter (41 per cent), followed by the tiger snake (17 per cent) and red-bellied black snake (16 per cent). 

Source: Royal Flying Doctor Service


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