Australian Snakes – tis the season to be careful…

As we head into spring and the days get warmer, Australian snakes will begin to emerge out from their winter slumber and out into the sun. They have come out of hibernation to bask in the sun and to search for food and a mate.

Australia is home to over 190 species of snake, 25 of which are toxic to humans and 20 of those are among the most venomous in the world.

Despite Australia harboring many of the world’s most dangerous snake species, snakebite deaths are rare and only account for about two deaths a year. According to the Australian Snakebite Project, of the 23 deaths reported over the decade long study between 2005 and 2015, 17 deaths were attributed to brown snakes, and four to tiger snakes, the other two death are from unknown species.

Brown snakes can be found Australia-wide, but in Victoria they are generally found in rural areas, while tiger snakes are the most common in Melbourne and surrounding suburbs. While the perception remains that snake bite incidents occur in rural areas, nearly half the incidents occurred in an urban environment.

Which snakes bite

According to the Australian Snakebite Project, the most common bites are from brown snakes (41%), then tiger snakes (17%) and red-bellied black snakes (16%).

As the weather begins to warm up and we see more sunny days, snakes will be on the move and it is quite likely people, and their pets will encounter them. Paying attention to your surroundings – even in the suburbs as well as in the bush is important. If you see a snake, don’t panic and move away slowly – and do not try to pick them up.

What to look out for – signs and symptoms

  • Bleeding, swelling, and bruising at the bite site
  • Severe pain, either immediate or gradual
  • Bite marks on the skin, ranging from small scratches to deeper puncture wounds
  • Anxiety, nausea, and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and dizziness
  • Glands in the region of the armpit or groin where the bite has occurred becoming either swollen or tender
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Headache, feelings of confusion or stomach pain
  • Skin can be either tingling, burning, or stinging

What to do if you are bitten

The first step is to call triple zero (000)

Stay calm and still as possible as movement can shift poison around the body

Remove any jewellery such as toe rings or ankle bracelets, or rings and watches if bite is on the arm,

Regardless of where on the limb the bite has occurred, commence bandaging from just above the toes (leave toes uncovered to check circulation) and bandage all the way up the leg up to the groin.

If the bite is on the arm, start bandaging from just above the fingertips and continue to bandage all the way up the arm to the armpit. Bandages need to be applied firmly so it slows down lymph movement. If applied too loose, it will not be effective.

For areas where a pressure bandage cannot be applied, make sure you maintain firm pressure as this is vital to help stop venom spreading throughout the body.

Snake Facts

Snakes are deaf, they have no external ears

Snakes can visualize their surroundings using their tongue to pick up chemicals in the air

Snakes have no eyelids

Most snakes are immune to their own venom

Anti-venom is produced by injecting small amounts of venom into a horse and then extracting the antibodie

Summary

Keep the patient still – this includes all the limbs and bring transport to the patient if possible.

Do not cut or incise the bitten area

Do not apply an arterial tourniquet

Do not wash the bitten area or suck the bite

Never try to catch, chase or kill the snake, as this may lead to another bite

Never give alcohol, tea, stimulants, food, medications without medical advice

Never allow the patient to walk or run after a snake bite

Never remove or loosen the pressure immobilisation bandages unless advised to do so by medical personnel

If you would like to learn how to manage a snake bite or any other type of emergency, head over to our first aid course page.