CGHS Emergency Department held a presentation on the prevention and treatment of snakebite recently as part of it ongoing commitment to staff training and development.
The medical staff provided a live demonstration of how to manage snakebite and immobilise a limb with the help of professional snake catcher, Josh Neille and a black headed python.
The Sale Hospital’s Emergency Department receives, on average, up to 10 snakebites year with one usually life threatening.
Senior doctor in the Emergency Department, John Hambly, said public awareness of the first aid of snakebite is of paramount importance, especially as the snake season usually runs from October until April.
Dr Hambly said there were around 3000 reported snakebites a year in Australia, resulting in up to 10 deaths with anti-venom being needed in about 200 cases.
“Gippsland is home to several venomous snakes including the tiger, brown snake, copperhead, black snake and rarely the death adder,” Dr Hambly said. “The tiger and brown snake bites result in the most admissions to hospital.”
According to Dr Hambly, generally snakes fear humans and will do the best to avoid contact.
“Unfortunately our inquisitive nature gets the better of us and many snake bites are provoked.
“Snakebites may or may not be felt, may be a light scratch, may or may not leave one or two fang marks. Toxins may affect blood clotting (coagulopathy, haemolysis and platelet dysfunction), nerves (neurotoxins) and cause muscle breakdown (myotoxins).
“Early symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion and pain at the bite site. Later signs include bleeding, low blood pressure and weakness, fast breathing and paralysis. The brown snake and tiger snake can cause significant bleeding problems in humans leading to stroke, bleeding from the bowel and other sites.”
Dr Hambly said first aid with immobilisation and compression saved lives and urged everyone to be aware of how to manage snakebite “effectively, calmly and safely”.
He said people who lived in regional and rural areas were at risk of snakebite. “Residents such as agricultural workers and those involved in outdoor pursuits should always carry a charged mobile, small dressing and two large crepe bandages.”
Dr Hambly’s message to residents is be prepared, keep the victim still on the ground, pressure immobilise the limb, call for help and wait for help to come to you.
Assistance with problematic snakes or reptiles can be provided by Josh Neille, licensed snake controller on mobile 0438 590648 or telephone the Wellington Shire Council on 1300 366 244 for a list of local snake controllers.
Advice is also available at The Ambulance Victoria website: http://www.ambulance.vic.gov.au/Education/First-Aid-Tips/Bites--Stings.html
If you are bitten by a snake:
Dr John Hambly has worked in Emergency and Intensive Care for 13 years and has experience of snake bite management from his work in remote Queensland.
This article has been written using information from Ambulance Victoria, Australian Resuscitation Council, Australian Venom Research Unit, Victorian Better Health Channel and Poisons Information service, Victoria.