Updated First Aid Advice for Snake Bite from the Royal Flying Doctor Service

After a challenging winter of big bushfires, freezing artic blasts, and powerful red dust storms Australia is now heading towards another scorching summer.

One of our native inhabitants that thrives in the warmer season is the snake, about 170 species of Australian land snake. Although the mere thought of one of these slippery land sliders may put some people into a cold sweat, the Australian National Museum and Australian Geographic point out that snake bites are actually quite rare and fatalities are low – around 4 per year. Associate Professor Bryan Fry, a herpetologist and venom expert at the University of Queensland said “Snake bites are very, very rare [in Australia] and often the fault of the person being bitten. Most bites occur when people are trying to kill a snake or show off.www.abc.net.au

Our most notorious snake is the eastern brown and they are considered to have the quickest acting venom in the world – killing in under half an hour. Between 2005 and 2015, eastern browns were responsible for 17 of the 23 snake bite deaths in Australia, with most victims dying from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest or bleeding on the brain. Although they typically only inject a small amount, hatchling eastern brown snake venom is capable of killing an adult, so being bitten by a small snake does not mean it is harmless. www.australiangeographic.com.au The Royal Flying Doctor Service no longer advises bite victims to attempt to identify the snake after a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia in July found that snake identification was unreliable for people presenting to hospital with bites. By way of example, eastern browns range in colour from red-brown to black or grey, striped, mottled or have a reddish band behind the head, and can look very similar to other harmless species. Dr Fry’s advice is to always get to the hospital, even when you think you know the species of snake.

RFDS updated guidelines for treating snake bites

  • 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 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 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 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.
  • Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health and even death within a few hours.

A compression bandage can all but stop the flow of poison. (Supplied: RFDS)

If you are unsure about how to use a compression bandage then there is a video here which demonstrates how easy it is to apply one using the Setopress Bandage for Snakebites. The Setopress High Compression Bandage is ideal for use with the Pressure Immobilisation Technique (PIT). PIT is used for the treatment of all Australian Snakes, Funnel Webbed Spiders, Blue Ringed Octopus and Cone Shell stings.

By the way, not everything in Australia wants to kill you…. In fact, very few things do!

Of the 254 confirmed and reported animal-related deaths during 2000-2010, horses, cows and dogs were the most frequent culprits, accounting for 137 deaths. Horses (including ponies and donkeys) were the most ‘deadly’ animal in Australia, causing 77 deaths in 10 years. Cows accounted for 33 deaths. Dogs caused 27 deaths which mostly involved children under four years old and elderly people.

Next up was our dear old kangaroo, which caused the deaths of 18 Australians from 2000-10 closely followed by bees which killed as many people as sharks (16 each). Only at seventh and eighth place on the list do we encounter the notorious snakes (14 fatalities) and crocodiles (9 fatalities), followed by emus which caused 5 deaths.

Other deadly animals included fish, sheep, goats, camels, cats and jellyfish, which caused 39 deaths combined. Almost three-quarters of victims were male and most of the deaths occurred either on public roads, in the home and on farms.