When identifying snakes and their bites, the obvious concern is determining the snake species and understanding if the bite will be life-threatening. Still, even if the snake is not venomous, the bite can cause an infection or suffer a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis.
When treating snake bites, First Aiders treat all bites as potentially life-threatening, and why call emergency services (000) when someone has been bitten.
Australia’s Venomous Snakes
Australia is known for having some of the most deadly snakes in the world that are capable of causing death with one bite.
Some effects of a venomous snake bite include:
- Pain and swelling
Our Most Dangerous Snakes
In Australia, 2 people die annually from venomous snake bites. After being bitten, you do not need to kill the snake to identify it. An experienced snake handler can better manage the snake, or your local council can usually help. You can also try to take a picture from a safe distance or remember key traits of the snake to tell emergency services.
Types of venomous snakes include:
- Brown Snakes
- Copperhead Snakes
- Death Adders
- Tiger Snakes
- Some Sea Snakes
Snake Venom Detection Kits
A venom detection kit can be used to determine the snake that is responsible for any given bite. Venom can be present on a victim’s clothes or skin as well as the bite, and that is all that the kit needs to be effective. This is why you should not wash the wound or discard any clothing after a snake attack.
Types of Snake Bites
Snake bites are either ‘dry’ or ‘venomous’. Both types of bites can have matching symptoms, and it is vital to understand that even non-venomous bites are still able to give you a reaction that can be life-threatening if treated incorrectly.
This type of bite is categorised as when a snake strikes a person without releasing any venom, but it is still often painful when the bites occur. The main concern with dry bites is that it is hard to know if there is no venom present. Some symptoms that result from a dry bite are swelling and redness. While the skin may have been punctured, a dry bite does not require any anti-venom to treat. When a dry bite occurs, call 000 and treat it as a medical emergency in case of any complications, such as infections or anaphylaxis.
Unlike a dry bite, a venomous snake bite is when a snake strikes a victim and their venom (or poison) have been released into the wound. The venom in a snake bite has a poison that has the ability to numb, stun and even kill another creature if not treated.
Symptoms of Venomous Snake Bite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision and dizziness
- Swelling and bruising
- Bleeding or blood at the site of the wound or on the gums
- Severe pain, either immediate or gradual
- Bite marks present on the skin, ranging from a small scratch to deep puncture wounds
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Glands in the armpit or groin region are becoming either swollen or tender where the bite has occurred.
- Headache, feelings of confusion, or abdomen pain
- Coma or unconsciousness
- Skin is tingling, burning or stinging
- Heartbeat becoming irregular
First Aid Treatment for Snake Bite
Snake bites of any type should be treated as an emergency in First Aid. Call 000 for an ambulance and always be prepared to provide CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation as needed.
A pressure immobilisation bandage should be applied to where the snake bites have happened, be it a limb, hand or foot. For areas of the body where a pressure bandage cannot be applied, make sure you maintain firm pressure. It is critical to help stop the venom circulating throughout the body.
Applying a pressure immobilisation bandage:
- Place the pressure bandage over the bite. Make it tight, so you can’t slip a finger between the dressing and the victim’s skin.
- After placing the pressure bandage over the bite, use an elasticised roller or crepe bandage to wrap the rest of the limb. Start above the person’s fingers or toes, depending on which limb has been bitten and continue to bandage up the limb until you reach the body.
- Help the victim remain as relaxed as possible and make sure they don’t move around too much.
- Mark the spot where the bite happened on the bandage with a pen, felt-tip marker, or any other means of safely marking where the bite has occurred, like coloured tape.
There is also a potential danger that the snake bite victim might have a severe allergic reaction and go into anaphylactic shock, which could be fatal. Some symptoms of anaphylactic shock are:
- Vomiting, nausea or abdominal pain
- Difficulty talking or breathing
- Coughing or wheezing
- Throat swelling or tightness
- Swelling of the tongue
- Pale or clammy skin
This highlights the need to call emergency 000 without delay. Victims of snakebites who are predisposed to anaphylaxis may have an action plan, which includes administering an epinephrine injection using an auto-injector (or an EpiPen). Check if they have one on hand and take action accordingly.
How to Avoid Snake Bites
A large number of cases of snake bites in Australia involve people who have been bitten while trying to capture or kill a snake. If you back away, a snake will generally go on its way, leaving you alone. Not surprisingly, snakes are more likely to attack in self-defence. Leave snakes alone.