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June 25, 2021

The right advice for snake bites

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Eastern Brown Snake in defensive warning display. Note blotches on the belly. Photo Richard Jackson .

Eve Jeffery

Once upon a time the first-aid for snakebite included things like tourniquets, incisions, suction, and electricity. As it turns out most of these cures are harmful and in some cases, fatal.

When the current technique of pressure and immobilisation is correctly applied, the fatality rates are drastically reduced.

The object of pressure and immobilisation is to contain venom within a bitten limb and prevent it from moving through the lymphatic system to the vital organs. The pressure prevents lymphatic drainage, and immobilisation prevents the pumping action of the skeletal muscles.

Co-Director of Emergency Medicine at Lismore Base Hospital, Lindsay Murray, says all hospitals within the Northern Rivers carry snake anti-venom.

‘Once at hospital, a patient with a suspected snake bite will undergo a series of evaluations and tests to determine whether they have been envenomed,’ he said.

‘Patients will often be transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital to complete investigations and treatment. Anti-venom is only administered if envenomation is confirmed,  without confirmed laboratory results in very extreme circumstances.

Venom is a precious commodity

Venom is a precious commodity for a snake and not a thing to be wasted. A snake will often dry bite more than once as a warning before envenomation.

If you see a snake, stand still – even if you are right next to it. Most times they will slither off to get away from the big stomping human as quickly as they can.

Never try to catch or kill a snake as you are more likely than not to receive a bite.

Mr Murray says that in the event of definite, or even suspected snakebite, people should: keep calm and limit all unnecessary movement, particularly of the bitten limb; wrap the entire limb with a firm bandage at the pressure used for a sprained ankle.

Start wrapping at the toes or fingers and continue all the way up to armpit or groin. Clothing can be left in place; immobilise the bitten limb with a splint or sling; and arrange urgent transport to the nearest hospital, by ambulance if necessary.

In an emergency call triple zero (000).


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