Snake Bites

Many of the snakes found in Australia are capable of lethal bites to humans. These include Taipans, Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, Death Adders, Black snakes, Copperhead snakes, Rough Scaled snakes and many Sea bellied black snake, snake, animal-6749361.jpg

Snakes produce venom in modified salivary glands and the venom is forced out under pressure through paired fangs in the upper jaw. Snake venoms are complex mixtures of many toxic substances which can cause a range of effects in human victims.

The greatest threat to life and cause of over half of deaths is early cardiovascular collapse. In the 16 years to 2016, 16 Australians were recorded as dying of snake bite in Australia.

Other significant effects include:

  • Major bleeding due to inability to clot blood.
  • Nerve paralysis leading to respiratory muscle paralysis.
  • Muscle damage.
  • Kidney failure due to microscopic blood clots.

Recognition of Snake Bites

The bite may be painless and without visible marks.

Other symptoms and signs of a snake bite may include:

  • Paired fang marks, but often only a single mark or a scratch mark may be present (localised redness and bruising are uncommon in Australian snake bites)
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurred or double vision, or drooping eyelids
  • Difficulty in speaking, swallowing, or breathing.
  • Swollen tender glands in the groin or armpit of the bitten  
  • Limb weakness or paralysis
  • Respiratory weakness or respiratory arrest

The most common cause of death from snake bite is collapse with cardiac arrest. This can occur within 10 to 60 minutes of a bite with envenomation, is most often pre-hospital, and requires immediate CPR.

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An occasional feature of a brown snake bite is initial collapse or confusion followed by apparent partial or complete recovery. It often occurs as the only finding after a bite from a brown snake and may be the only evidence of envenomation. This information may be useful when providing handover to the treating health practitioner who is considering administration of antivenom.

Management of Snake Bites

If the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally, DRSABCD.

If the person is unconscious and breathing normally, the rescuer should:

  • D.R.S.A.B.C.D. Send for an ambulance for any person with a suspected snake bite.
  • Keep the person immobilised (still), reassured and under constant observation.
  • Apply pressure bandaging with immobilisation.
  • Commence CPR if person is unresponsive and not breathing; normally, there is no risk of transmission of venom to rescuer by providing CPR.

  • DO NOT cut or incise the bite.
  • DO NOT use an arterial tourniquet.
  • DO NOT wash or suck the bite.

Snake identification

Many of Australia’s snakes are protected species. It is strongly recommended that no attempts be made to kill the snake due to the risk of multiple bites or another person being bitten. A digital photograph of the snake may be helpful in identification if safe to do so. Antivenom is available for all venomous snake’s native to Australia but must be given under health professional supervision in a properly equipped medical facility.