SNAKE BITES: WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO
Australia is known for its snakes. Despite being incredibly rare, snake bite stories have a kind of mythical status among travellers in the bush. In my numerous years travelling and bushwalking in the Australian outback, I have only known one individual bitten by a snake. There are countless stories floating around but I have only ever personally known one person bitten. Although thankfully, it is rare, it is still worth knowing what to do in the unlikely event of a snake bite.
This advice is provided for general information purposes. However, we recommend you seek the advice of a health care professional
• Immediately, call an ambulance. Australian hospitals are well equipped with anti-venom and snake bites rarely end up being fatal, but you still need to act fast to prevent lasting damage.
• Treat any snakebite as though it was venomous. You’re not Steve Irwin and shouldn’t decide if the bite is dangerous or not. Leave it to the professionals and call the ambulance.
• Don’t let the victim move around. Movement only increases circulation and will allow the venom to spread quicker.
• Calm them down. Similarly, if the victim is panicking an increased heart rate will let the venom spread more quickly. It might be difficult given the severity of the situation, but speak calmly and reassure the victim to try and put them at ease.
• Remove any jewellery or watches from the area. The bite is likely to swell up and these items will become uncomfortable.
• Place a bandage around, but not covering, the affected area and stop the limb from moving. Wrap the bandage around the entire limb. If the leg is affected the bandage should be wrapped up to the groin, leaving the bite uncovered. If the arm or hand is affected the bandage needs to go up to the armpit.
• Don’t put any ice on the bite. This can cause more harm than good.
• You can try to apply suction to the wound to remove the venom within 5 minutes of the bite occurring. Any later than this and the venom will have spread too far to be able to be aspirated out. Don’t use your mouth to do this, this could prove dangerous to the other party involved as well as the victim. Try to use a device which could generate suction or another instrument.
• Don’t try to tourniquet the affected limb. If it’s done incorrectly, the limb may have to be amputated.
• Don’t burn or cut the wound. These methods have been proven to be totally ineffective and only put the victim through more pain and stress.
• I have heard stories of people trying to kill the snake and take it to the hospital with them. Don’t do this. This is dangerous and a waste of valuable time when you could be administering first aid to your mate. If it’s safe, then take a picture by all means to help the identification process at the hospital.
All of these measures are designed to buy you more time until the ambulance arrives and minimise the risk of the bite causing lasting damage to the victim.
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