Australia is home to 20 of the top 25 most deadly snakes in the world; hence Australia is often referred to the lucky country! When some of these facts are mentioned in our First Aid Training courses, the room trembles with fear, but before we all vow to never step outside the house again. How many people do get bitten, well there are approximately 600 people per year admitted to hospitals for what is known as definite or suspected snake bites. On average per year there has been between two and four deaths only. I guess snakes don’t generally go after humans, which is a good thing!
The snake most likely to bite us, is probably the Eastern Brown Snake, found pretty much anywhere throughout Australia, but luckily they only have fangs that measure 2 -3 mm in length. It was also explained to me that most Australian snakes have short fangs, which are thin and curved, so you might not see a puncture wound maybe just scratches on the skin. This apparently is different to overseas snakes that have fangs measuring slightly longer in length as well as being straighter, stronger and folding out when the snake opens their mouth. For this reason, overseas snakes generally bite into the blood stream, and the old fashion tourniquet is used for First Aid, whereas in Australia we utilise the Pressure Immobilisation Bandage technique that basically closes down the Lymphatic system to which most snakes bite in to. The lymphatic system uses fluid under the skin which catches toxics and through muscle movement transports the toxin to the lymphatic glans, hence what’s the first thing we tell a snake bite victim to do? – DON”T MOVE.
First Aid Treatment for SNAKE BITES.
- Reassure and tell the person to minimise movement in the area bitten, as muscle movement causes the poison to spread.
- Next, the bitten area should be preserved and the wound site covered, ‘Do not lick suck or wash the bite area’, leaving any poison on the site will enable medical staff to identify the snake, this way you don’t have to take the snake with you! Wrap a broad bandage to the bite site. Alternate bandages could be your shirt, a plastic bag held on with duct tape – just cover the wound.
- Next, apply a pressure bandage over the entire length of the bitten limb, whether you start at the arm pit and work towards the fingers or wise-versa, I have heard both ways work, my rule of thumb – when bandaging a bleeding wound you bandage towards the heart to keep the blood in the person, when bandaging for poisoning you bandage away from the heart to keep the poison out of the body! I am often asked how tight do you make the bandage, again a good rule of thumb is the three (3) finger method: if you can slip one (1) finger under the bandage it is probably too tight, two (2) fingers under the bandage is just right, therefore three (3) fingers under the bandage is too lose. Do not remove clothing bandage straight over the top it will save time.
- Next immobilise the bitten limb by tying it to a splint, this could be a branch or even rolled up newspapers, alternatively tie it to the person’s body as not many of us walk around with a piece of timber to use as a splint. Use what even you can find as ropes – use clothing, duct tape, glad wrap it doesn’t matter what you use as long as you immobilise the casualty.
- NOW call 000 or 112, the phone call comes after the pressure immobilisation bandage as time is your enemy until it is applied. Stay with the casualty and reassure until help arrives. Bring the transport to the casualty, to minimised movement.