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.
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.”