Discussion Notes on Snake Bite Treatment
There are 38 species of venomous land snakes in Australia. Of the world's 25 most venomous snakes (based on toxicity), 21 species live in Australia (more if sea snakes were included).
Despite that frightening statistic, snake bite is relatively uncommon, with an average of 1 serious bite per day needing antivenin treatment and around 2 deaths per year. But in remote locations, where Oka owners are likely to travel and where they may well be days from medical care, snake bite could prove fatal. The majority of deaths occur in rural areas, mostly in Queensland, and these figures are not reducing over time.
Don't be complacent with your life, or that of travellers depending on you. Don't take the risk of not knowing what to do, or what the symptoms to look for, or not having adequate communications facilities. Read and/or print these documents before leaving home.
[Note, many site addresses change often, so do this google search on Snake Bite Treatment first or if/when these sites fail]:
- Treatment of Australian Snake Bites (includes identification charts and symptoms to watch for)
- Pressure Immobilisation Bandaging (PIB), also here and How to do it Video (Vital lifesaving information)
- St Johns Snake Bite Treatment
- First Aid Treatment from Venom Supplies
- Snake Bite Treatment for Teenagers
- Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) Snake Bite Treatment
- Current Approach to Snake Bite Treatment
- Snake Bite
- NSW Ambulance CPR Chart or Red Cross CPR chart
- Note: if a patient is not breathing, current thinking is do chest compressions first and then mouth to mouth. Sufficient oxygen will still be in the blood supply for a minute or two but needs immediate circulation to vital organs via chest compressions.
- If in doubt, perform CPR, any CPR is better than none.
- We have recently invested in a defibrillator (Philips/Laderal Heartstart HS1) which we keep in the back of our car for emergencies (similar devices now appear in shopping malls and large organisations alongside the First Aid box).
- Primarily we bought it in case we come across someone on our remote travels with a serious heart malfunction and we wouldn't want to appear helpless. However I just hope we also have the presence of mind to use it on each other if/when necessary.
- Defibrillators are pretty much foolproof these days, leading you through the process with verbal and visual prompts, we had a training session from St John thrown in when it was delivered.
- The key thing is using one is much, much better than doing nothing, they won't/can't damage a person who is still alive.
- Note that CPR is still critical function in using a defibrillator, but it can restart (repeatedly as necessary) a failing heart more reliably than CPR alone.
- CSL Anti Venom Handbook (also includes spider and marine stinger treatments)
- Facts about snake behaviour and safety
- Dead snakes can bite (refer final paragraph).
- The biting reflex of snakes can remain intact for many hours after death, and their venom remains toxic for a very long time (months). The moral is don't handle dead snakes.
- Should I take Antivenin with me?
- The short answer to this is No. Antivenin itself is a dangerous drug requiring specialist intravenous application, and then only after snake identification. In inexperienced hands antivenin is likely to cause more medical problems than snake bite itself. The best response to the threat of snake bite is avoidance, or where a bite is suspected, pressure immobilisation bandaging.
Quote from Chris Thompson from "Envenomation in Australia":
"In Australia there are about 3,000 snake bites per year, of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom; on average one or two will prove fatal. About half the deaths are due to bites from the brown snake; the rest mostly from tiger snake, taipan and death adder. Some deaths are sudden, however in fact it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite."
(We consider ourselves very lucky if we see 4-5 snakes per trip, they are not that common, but we did come across a large King Brown snake in Well 46 on the CSR. A serious bite there could well have been fatal due to the extreme location and the distance/time from medical facilities, but we knew about it in advance via the Bush Telegraph and were especially careful, see this article).
If you have a morbid fascination with snakes, this slideshow presents the history of Snake Bite Mortality in Australia in full detail.
One of the key points is that in only a minority of cases was Pressure Immobilisation Bandaging treatment applied.
There is a clear message there, in the case of actual or even suspected snake bite, apply PIB immediately. It can buy time and maybe save a life.
Note, no bandaging is recommended for head and neck bites, and only firm continuous pressure to the affected area for trunk bites, but in both cases seek immediate medical treatment.