How to survive a venomous snakebite

Christina Zdenek

How to survive a venomous snakebite

- from a professional who's been bitten before

Posted on 02.11.2021

“Am I going to die?”

It’s a question you ask yourself after being bitten by a venomous snake.

It’s a question I’ve asked myself once. My husband, Chris Hay, has asked himself four times.

Deaths from snakebite rarely occur in Australia — two people die per year on average.

From 2000-2013, there were fewer deaths from snakebites than from bees, wasps, ants, and ticks.

Believe it or not, horse-riding is at least five times more deadly than snakes are in Australia; at least 11–20 people die from horse-related accidents annually.

Compared to India, where at least 42,000 snakebite deaths occur annually, we are indeed a lucky country when it comes to snakes.

But while there are only a couple of deaths each year, it’s estimated there are about 3,000 snakebites in Australia annually.

I have adored snakes since childhood, and with my husband Chris, I own 26 snakes, 16 of which are highly venomous. They’re pets that we use for venomous snake handling courses and venom extraction.

Chris and I do venom extractions for research, and handle a lot of venomous snakes — it’s our profession.

While we are professional snake handlers (and even conduct courses on handling snakes), we’re still human and have made a few mistakes over the years.

I was once bitten by a highly venomous dugite (Pseudonaja affinis), a type of brown snake from the Perth area that causes more deaths there than any other snake.

Chris was put into a coma for three days after a death adder bite.

This is how we survived, and how you can too — even if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by one of the world’s most venomous snakes.

First thing’s first: The best way to survive a snakebite, of course, is to never be bitten.

How to avoid being bitten by a snake

Contrary to common opinion, snakes are rarely aggressive. They’re cowards.

Humans are giant adversaries to snakes, so they do their best to avoid us.

The best way to avoid a snakebite is to simply give snakes space.

A well-designed study that tracked humans and eastern brown snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) — the most feared snake in Australia — revealed that less than 1 per cent of encounters with snakes resulted in a strike.

Most of the time snakes retreated without even being seen, or froze to avoid detection.

While you may think that most snake bites occur out bush, research in 2016 showed “the majority of snakebite fatalities [in Australia] occur around a person’s residence within a major city or inner regional area”.

That doesn’t mean you need to live your life indoors — our dislike for lockdowns says it all.

But keeping your distance from any snakes you see is a good start.

Wearing shoes is one of the best ways to prevent a snakebite, because most accidental bites occur to the lower limbs. Lighting the ground while walking outside at night in the summertime is also advised.

And don’t ever handle a snake. Even if you think you know the type of snake, most Australians are actually very poor at identifying snakes correctly. If needed, snake catchers have the expertise and equipment to catch and relocate snakes for you.

Keep your pets in mind too. Snakebite in domestic animals (cats, dogs, horses, and cattle) is around twice as frequent as for humans.

My research has shown that dogs are particularly susceptible to procoagulant snake venoms — that’s venom that causes many micro clots in the blood.

It’s best to keep dogs on leashes and cats indoors. This protects your pets and our wildlife. Win win!

This is exemplary action in a snakebite situation.

So stay as still as possible. Don’t move a muscle, because moving moves the venom through the body.

Then, wrap the affected limb with a stretchy compression bandage — like you would for a sprained ankle/wrist.

It’s a good idea to always have a compression bandage handy, especially when perusing the paddock or bush-bashing. But if caught without a stretchy bandage, use anything possible to apply compression. (Bushwalkers please note!)

Start from the end of the limb, working your way all the way up, using a second bandage if needed. Then, immobilise the limb in a splint, if possible

This simple technique slows the flow of venom and delays systemic toxicity — that’s toxicity to your whole body.

This should give you six to 10 hours of time to undertake the next vital step — get to hospital for antivenom treatment.

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Source
Christina Zdenek
ABC News – Science

 

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