Snakebite first aid.

Canyon walk along Ovens river, Bright.

Yesterday we took a short afternoon amble down ‘Canyon Walk’ along the banks of the Ovens river.

We had been advised by locals to take care as snakes were fairly active right now and walkers had reported seeing several warming themselves on the paths in recent days.

Sure enough, 10 minutes into our walk Kelly spotted a large Brownsnake just ahead of us. Snakes don’t really worry me that much (spiders, now that’s a different story), and this was a beautiful specimen. She interrupted her hasty retreat to lift her head and check us out for a second, before sliding smoothly into the scrub and instant invisibility.

Each year in Australia there are some 3,000 reported snakebites. Of these 500 require hospital admission, of those 1 in 20 actually require administration of anti venom.

Each year there are around 2 fatalities.

Snakebite first aid:

Most Australians are familiar with the first aid response to snakebites. But here is a quick recap.

Not every snake bite will result in envenomation. Snakes make a conscious decision to actually inject venom when biting and may deliver a dry bite where no venom is delivered.

Also if the snake has recently delivered a venomous bite its venom sacks may be empty also resulting in a dry bite.

Despite this always respond to a snakebite with the assumption envenomation has occurred.

Do NOT wash or clean the area around the bite site. Hospital staff will want to swab for traces of venom in order to identify the snake and prepare the correct anti venom should it be required.

Do NOT apply a torniquet or attempt to cut the bite or suck out the venom.

DO apply a firm bandage.
DO splint and immobilise the limb.
DO reassure and relax the victim

Snake venom travels primarily in the bodies lymphatic system and not in the blood. Its spread can be reduced by application of a bandage firmly (as you would for a sprained ankle). If possible apply a clean folded pad directly over the bite site. Bandage first over the bitten area and then extend the bandage up the limb towards the body. If you have enough bandage you can come back down the limb as far as possible.

Again the bandage should apply a firm, even pressure. You do not want to impede normal blood flow. Once the bandage has been applied do not remove It as this may result in ‘flushing’ of the venom through the lymphatic system.

If the bite has occurred on the torso or head or back etc, apply a firm compress directly over the bite site.

Spread of venom is also greatly reduced with immobilisation. Splinting of the limb with a branch or other object and ensuring minimal movement of the person.

Try to keep them calm and relaxed and bring medical attention to them rather than exerting them in the process of seeking it.

Here is a clear guide from Paradise First Aid that you can print out for emergency reference.

If you do a lot of bush walking during the summer months consider carrying an elastic bandage in your kit.


References and further medical information:

  1. ARC guidelines on snake bite
  2. Antivenom Update by Ian Whyte in Australian Prescriber 2012
  3. MJA article by Isbister 2013
  4. emedicine Brown Snake envenomation management
  5. RCH Melbourne Snakebite page

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