The bite of summer well and truly arrived early this year and with that heat, comes snakes. This article, sent to us by Phil McHugh, was written by Rob Timmings. Rob runs a medical/nursing education business Teaching nurses, doctors and paramedics. It’s well worth the read now we are in peak snake season!
There are 3000 bites are reported annually, 300-500 hospitalisations and 2-3 deaths annually. Average time to death is 12 hours. The urban myth that you are bitten in the yard and die before you can walk from your chook pen back to the house is a load of rubbish. While not new, the management of snake bite (like a flood/fire evacuation plan or CPR) should be refreshed each season.
Let’s start with a basic overview
There are five genus of snakes that will harm us (seriously) Browns, Blacks, Adders, Tigers and Taipans. All snake venom is made up of huge proteins (like egg white). When bitten, a snake injects some venom into the meat of your limb (NOT into your blood).
This venom can not be absorbed into the blood stream from the bite site. It travels in a fluid transport system in your body called the lymphatic system (not the blood stream). Now this fluid (lymph) is moved differently to blood.
Your heart pumps blood around, so even when you are lying dead still, your blood still circulates around the body. Lymph fluid is different. It moves around with physical muscle movement like bending your arm, bending knees, wriggling fingers and toes, walking/exercise etc.
Now here is the thing. Lymph fluid becomes blood after these lymph vessels converge to form one of two large vessels (lymphatic trunks)which are connected to veins at the base of the neck.
Back to the snake bite site
When bitten, the venom has been injected into this lymph fluid (which makes up the bulk of the water in your tissues). The only way that the venom can get into your blood stream is to be moved from the bite site in the lymphatic vessels. The only way to do this is to physically move the limbs that were bitten.
Stay still!!! Venom can’t move if the victim doesn’t move. Stay still!!
What to do if bitten
- Do not cut, incise or suck the venom.
- Do not EVER use a tourniquet
- Don’t remove the shirt or pants - just bandage over the top of clothing.
- Remember movement (like wriggling out of a shirt or pants) causes venom movement.
- DO NOT try to catch, kill or identify the snake!!! This is important. In hospital we NO LONGER NEED to know the type of snake; it doesn’t change treatment. 5 years ago we would do a test on the bite, blood or urine to identify the snake so the correct anti venom can be used. BUT now we don’t do this. Our new Antivenom neutralises the venoms of all the 5 listed snake genus, so it doesn’t matter what snake bit the patient.
Read that again - one injection for all snakes!
- Bleeding - internally and bruising.
- Muscles paralysed causing difficulty talking, moving & breathing.