For anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, a snake bite is a very serious concern. If you are outdoors and are bitten by one of the many highly poisonous snakes in the world, it can be fatal, so it is for your own safety that you should know how to avoid snakes, and what to do if you are bitten.
In this post we look at some things you should know about snakes, as well as how to avoid them, and what to do if you ever suffer a bite from one of these reptiles. Unless you happen to be on an island where there are no snakes, it is a possible risk we face every time we are in the wild.
Of course, if you happen to be outdoors in New Zealand, Iceland, Antarctica or Ireland you won’t be bitten by a snake as there aren’t any due to the temperature.
Elsewhere though, where snakes with very powerful venom are prevalent, a life threatening snake bite is a real possibility.
In some places, particular care must be taken due to the diversity and abundance of poisonous snakes. Australia, The Philippines, South Asia, and South and Central America have the highest diversity of dangerous snakes.
How to avoid a snake bite
There are some actions you can take to avoid a snake bite. Since we all love heading outdoors, there’s the inevitable chance that we may be near a snake at some point in our life. But what should you do to avoid scaring them, or causing them to bite you? Here are some tips.
Tread noisily – snakes are scared of people and if they hear you coming are likely to move on and you’ll never see them. You don’t need to go to the extent of shouting “hey snake” like the “hey bear” cry often used in Canada and Alaska to scare off bears but a bit of noise will likely scare them off.
Never put your hands or feet somewhere you can’t see – whether that’s reaching into a clump of grass in Australia for fire fuel or stepping over a log in the rain forest, don’t do it. Step on the log so your foot doesn’t go down on the other side to where a snake has been resting. Poke the grass thoroughly with a stick before putting your hand in. A little bit of caution goes a long way.
What to do if you are bitten by a snake:
1. Remember what the snake looked like
If, despite your precautions, you are bitten by a snake, being able to identify what bit you will help emergency services provide the correct anti-venom and treatment.
When you are remembering details about the snake, pay attention to the easily recognizable things such as the color, size, shape of the head, and any characteristics on its movement, such as if it may have a shaking tail like a rattlesnake. These, coupled with your geographic location, will help a specialist identify the type of snake anti-venom.
2. Protect the person, or yourself
If a snake has bitten someone with you, or yourself, you should move the person or yourself away from striking distance of the snake. This does not mean to run 1000m away, just far enough away so that you can feel safe from any further snake bites. Next, lay down, or have the person lay down, with the wound below the heart. So if the bite was in the leg, make sure the heart is higher than the leg. This will slow down circulation to that area. It also helps to remain calm. There is a lot of adrenaline after a snake bite, but slowing your heart rate will also slow the rate at which venom spreads. If the leg has been bitten, remove the shoes as often they will cause compression from swelling.
3. Wrapping the area
In the event of a bite, the best course of action is to tightly wrap the area immediately above the bite with a conforming bandage to reduce the ability of the circulatory system to move the venom around the body and rush to the nearest medical facility. This wrapping doesn’t need to be as tight as a tourniquet but it will hopefully reduce and slow the effects of the venom until you can reach help.
4. Do not do these things
When dealing with a snake bite wound, do not cut the wound, never suck the venom out of the wound, do not apply a tourniquet and no alcohol or caffeine. Whatever you have seen in a Hollywood movie, don’t do it.
5. Getting medical attention
Rushing to a hospital or the nearest medical facility should be your first priority once bitten but perhaps your remote location or lack of transport or a survival situation means that is impossible. Having a means to contact for help, or a person to help you is imperative in that case.
Should you have a snake bite pump in your kit?
A snake bite kit is quite simple, and for the most part, a normal first aid kit with sterilization pads and bandages will be good enough. But you can also include an extractor pump. A 2004 paper in the Annals of Emergency Medicine indicated that venom extraction using a suction pump removed only 0.04% of venom from a simulated snake bite victim. However, anecdotal evidence suggests there may be some value in them for the less venomous snakes. Most of this evidence comes from experiences with North American species such as rattlesnakes and cottonmouths which are not as venomous or dangerous as their Pacific relatives. True anti-venoms are not readily available to the public, are prohibitively expensive, and require medical training to administer as they are generally administered by injection.
With these tips hopefully you will be able to properly treat a snake bite, or even better, avoid one altogether.