Australia is known for its highly venomous snakes, tests have shown that 21 of the the 25 most toxic venoms belong to Australian snakes. Despite this resulting in relatively few deaths, it pays to know what to do if you get bitten. Our Explorer Michael Harris talked to a Reptile Expert and a Paramedic to find out how to survive a snake bite.
The fact of the matter is, if you’re exploring, you’re going to come across a snake. It’s not a matter of if you will, it’s a matter of when. I spoke with a Reptile Expert and a Paramedic about what you should do when you come across a snake and what to do in the unlikely situation that you are bitten.
From The Reptile Expert
Snakes don’t want to bite you and are largely non confrontational, 9 times out of 10 they will be out of your way and off into the bush before you even know they were there.
If you do spot one you can be sure it knows you’re there too; give it some space and don’t try to move it along by throwing anything at it. Snakes wont ‘come at you’ unless provoked.
Be sure to keep an eye on it as well if it moves off (which they can do quickly and quietly) as you don’t want to step on it while it’s hiding under some leaves.
While you are watching it intently, try to identify it! Make note of the size, coloring and shape of the head. You’ll be surprised that Tiger snakes can be a solid colour, Black snakes aren’t always black and Brown snakes…you guessed it, not always brown.
On the east coast of Australia and NSW you’re more likely to cross paths with Eastern Browns, Red Bellied Blacks, Common Death Adders and Tiger snakes. Coastal areas, even near the beaches are home to the non-venomous Diamond Pythons and If you’re really lucky you might spot the endangered Broad Headed Snake (these look like tiny Diamond Pythons but are actually venomous) if you are around the many sandstone escarpments.
- Keep an eye out on trails
- Wear long pants or gaiters and high boots
- Look over fallen trees before you jump over them
- Walk with loud steps in scrub or leaf-litter
- Don’t throw sticks at snakes
Followed these tips and still been one of the minority and gotten a little bite?
From The Paramedic
It’s easy to say and even harder to do, but don’t panic.
The odds are in your favour to survive a snake bite because out of the more than 3000 reported snake bites a year, less than 500 will require antivenom and less than a handful would prove to be fatal, literally 1 or 2 a year at the most.
The bite may not look like a bite as you’d imagine one (2 small puncture wounds) it could be as minor looking as a little scratch or scrape and could even be painless so it’s important to consider the possibility of a snake bite if you or a friend is all of a sudden unwell, in a state of confusion or has lost consciousness while out hiking and exploring.
After being bitten your instinct might be to wipe the venom off the skin, this is one of the worst things you can do as it is vital to retain as much of the venom as possible to help identify the species of snake and what treatment is required.
The first step is to slow or stop the spread of the venom through the body with a pressure bandage and splint, you should have one in that first aid kit you’re always carrying around. Use the Pressure Immobilisation Technique to apply the bandage. If for some reason you don’t have a bandage, some pants or a shirt can be a (less than ideal) substitute.
The bandage should be applied firmly over the area of the bite and then extended up the limb as far as the bandage will allow. A good reference point is to apply the bandage as firmly as you would apply one for a sprained ankle, not so tight that it stops the blood flow eg: a tourniquet. Most venom spreads through the lymphatic system, not the circulatory one that your arteries and veins make up.
After this the idea is to immobilise the limb completely (or ideally the whole person) the less you move, the slower the spread of venom. If the bite is to an area harder to strap than a limb, it is still recommended to bandage as much as possible and apply additional constant pressure with your hand. Although it may not be possible in every situation, walking and physical exertion is not recommended.
Most importantly, every snake bite should be treated as a medical emergency, get to the nearest hospital or call an ambulance/evacuation as soon as possible.
Like all animals, snakes are not to be feared; respected yes, but feared no.
A handy app everyone should have on their smartphone is the Emergency+ App. It’s a free app developed by the emergency services with built-in one touch 000, SES and police numbers amongst others as well as displaying your current address (if available) and GPS coordinates to help emergency services locate you quickly if needed.
If you know you’ll be far out of reception, a Personal Locator Beacon is an essential safety accessory.
While you’re at it, check out our safety guide: How to Stay Safe in the Bush (and Keep your Mum Happy): The Ultimate Hiking Safety Guide