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New snakebite advice

Recently, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) issued new guidelines for snakebite victims based on a 10-year study of snakebites.

The Australian Snakebite Project, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in August this year, is the most comprehensive ever carried out, involved over 1500 patients and collated snakebite data from the past 10 years (2005-15).

"The publication of this study is very timely as the warm, dry winter and sudden rise in temperatures has brought snakes out early this year," said Tracey King, Senior Flight Nurse at the RFDS South Eastern Section.

“As venomous snakes are found in every state and territory we urge everyone, not just those in the warmer Outback locations, to be vigilant.”

“There are around 3,000 reported snakebites each year in Australia, resulting in 500 hospital admissions and an average of two fatalities.”

The Australian Snakebite Project threw up some surprising statistics, which challenges many long-held perceptions about where snake attacks occur and how to treat them.

  • Snake bites occur near the home while walking, gardening or trying to catch a snake.
  • Three-quarters of people bitten by snakes are males aged in their 30s.
  • The brown snake is the most likely to attack (41 per cent), followed by the tiger snake (17 per cent) and the red-bellied black snake (16 per cent).
  • Snakebites can often be painless and may go unnoticed.
  • Over 90 per cent of snakebites are found to occur on the upper and lower limbs. 
Staying in the area after an attack can be dangerous and recent advances in medication mean we can now treat any snakebite with a generic polyvalent anti-venom, so identification is no longer necessary.
Tracey King, Senior Flight Nurse at the RFDS South Eastern Section

The study prompted the RFDS South Eastern Sector to reverse previous long-standing advice about the importance of identifying the colour and type of snake.

While only 20- 25 out of 835 cases they studied resulted in death, the effects of a snakebite can be debilitating and far-reaching. Three-quarters of those bitten experienced venom-induced consumption coagulopathy, which causes blood clotting and life-threatening haemorrhages. Acute kidney injuries, brain and muscle damage and cardiac arrest are other possible side effects.

That’s why it’s important that people act quickly after a possible bite,” said Tracey.

“Staying in the area after an attack can be dangerous and recent advances in medication mean we can now treat any snakebite with a generic polyvalent anti-venom, so identification is no longer necessary.”

Do bandage firmly, splint and immobilise to stop the spread of venom. All the major medical associations recommend slowing the spread of venom by placing a folded pad over the bite area and then applying a firm bandage. It should not stop blood flow to the limb or congest the veins. Only remove the bandage in a medical facility, as the release of pressure will cause a rapid flow of venom through the bloodstream. Do NOT wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom. It is extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits.
Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health or even death within a few hours Do NOT incise or cut the bite, or apply a high tourniquet. Cutting or incising the bite won't help. High tourniquets are ineffective and can be fatal if released.
  Do NOT allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Use a splint or sling to minimise all limb movement. Put the patient on a stretcher or bring transportation to the patient

This media release, Flying Doctor issues new snakebite advice, first appeared on the Royal Flying Doctor Service website.

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6 Responses

    Thanks for sharing this. It's really informative and eye opening. I was just wondering if there are any pesticides or plants that are advised as repellents, to deter snakes from approaching or settling around homesteads? - From East Africa.

    Thanks Tracey! That's more than I knew 10 minutes ago before I read this publication.

    Hang on, so we don't need to identify the snake because there's generic anti-venom, but don't suck the venom out because it's needed to be able to identify it ...? I don't get it.

    Leonie, fact is, snakes are almost never aggressive unless harassed, trapped or cornered. You've got to be extremely unlucky to encounter an aggressive snake without having done something to put it in that state. If you had experience with snakes you would know this.

    I hear the occasional idiot on the radio, professional snake catchers, who are trying to convince us that snakes are NOT aggressive. Rubbish! Of course they are! They are territorial, they are meat eaters, they get scared of larger creatures, including Humans or more aggressive animals, such as dogs and cats. Try also to keep calm, as the blood flows faster through our systems when we panic.

    Hate my backyard ... Just over the back Fence there is a park like area with trees and a creek running through. The Council does mow there but just like the grass in my back yard it can grow ......... So Quickly ... It Scares me every time i have to let my Little Dog out to do her Toilet Business ... In the Warmer Weather