The new, must-know advice for all Aussies on how to treat snakebite

Contrary to popular belief, most snake bites happen near houses, not in the bush. Source: Wiki Commons/Matt Clancy

The Royal Flying Doctor Service’s (RFDS) south-eastern section has updated its advice on how to treat a snakebite, after a big, new study overturned many old concepts about the best actions to take.

The Australian Snakebite Project collected data over 10 years from more than 1,500 patients, and helped identify not only the snake most likely to bite, but also the people most likely to be bitten.

When it comes to bites, the brown snake is the most common source, followed by the tiger snake, and the red-bellied black snake. And men in their 30s are far more likely to be bitten than women – they make up 75 per cent of all bite victims.

Surprisingly, however, most bites occur near houses, not in the bush, with 50 per cent happening while people were out for a walk. Gardening, or actually trying to catch a snake, were two other common scenarios.

And although only about 25 of the 835 cases studied resulted in death, 75 per cent of all bit victims suffered consumption coagulopathy, which causes blood clotting and life-threatening haemorrhages, with other side effects including kidney injuries, brain and muscle damage, and heart attack.

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That’s why the RFDS advises people to take action as quickly as possible after a bit, even if it’s painless and there’s little actual damage to the skin visible. Symptoms to look out for include an unexplained collapse, vomiting, abdominal pain, bleeding, or paralysis.

The findings also busted a number of myths on how to treat a snakebite.

The RFDS says:

  • Don’t wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom – it’s extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits. 
  • Don’t incise or cut the bite, or apply a high tourniquet. Cutting or incising the bite won’t help, and high tourniquets are ineffective and can be fatal if released. 
  • Do bandage firmly, splint and immobilise to stop the spread of venom. All the major medical associations recommend slowing the spread of venom by placing a folded pad over the bite area, and then applying a firm bandage. It shouldn’t stop blood flow to the limb or congest the veins. Only remove the bandage in a medical facility, as the release of pressure will cause a rapid flow of venom through the bloodstream. 
  • Don’t allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Use a splint or sling to minimise all limb movement, then put the patient on a stretcher or bring transportation to the patient. 
  • Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health or even death within a few hours. 
  • Tracey King, a senior flight nurse with the RFDS’s south-eastern section, says that the warm, dry winter and sudden hot weather brought snakes out earlier this year.
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“As venomous snakes are found in every state and territory we urge everyone, not just those in the warmer outback locations, to be vigilant,” she advises.

Have you ever been bitten by a snake, or had to treat a snakebite in an emergency? What did you do?