Australia is home to the most venomous snakes in the world, and they can be found in all parts of the country.
While terms like ‘brown’ or ‘black’ are used to classify types of snakes, these descriptions don’t necessarily refer to their colour, which can vary considerably. Australia’s most dangerous snakes belong to the following groups: Black, Brown, Taipan, Tiger, Death Adder and several species of Sea Snake.
Most importantly, if you’re bitten by a snake, or are applying first aid to a snake bite victim, there’s no need to identify the type of snake. A bite from any snake must be treated as potentially life-threatening.
Are all snake bites serious?
Knowing whether a snake bite is life-threatening or not can be difficult.
That’s why it’s important to provide the correct first aid treatment for any Australian snake bite, regardless of its source.
It’s also important to be aware that a snake bite can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or cardiac arrest resulting in death.
Dry snake bites
Many snake bites in Australia result in a ‘dry bite’: when a snake strikes but no venom is released. Dry bites are painful and may cause swelling and redness around the bite site.
Once first aid is applied, followed by a medical assessment, there’s usually no need for antivenom treatment.
However, you can’t always tell if a bite is a dry bite, so assume venom has been injected and manage the bite with the correct first aid for an Australian snake bite (see below).
Venomous snake bites
Venomous snake bites release venom into the wound through the punctures made by the snake’s teeth.
Snake venom contains poisons that are designed to stun, numb or kill. Symptoms of a venomous bite include severe pain, swelling, bruising or bleeding. Other symptoms range from dizziness, paralysis, coma and even death.
Never clean, cut or suck the bite. Manage all snake bites with the correct first aid for an Australian snake bite (see below).
Top 3 things to do for Australian snake bites
Applying the correct first aid for an Australian snake bite can save a life. As with any emergency, always ensure there’s no danger to yourself or others before proceeding.
Follow these Top 3 steps:
1. Lie the person down, keep them calm and still.
2. Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.
3. Apply a firmly wrapped compression bandage to immobilise the limb and delay the spread of venom (Pressure Immobilisation Technique).
Don’t clean the bite site as the remaining venom could help medical professionals identify the snake.
Don’t apply a tourniquet, cut the wound or attempt to suck the venom out.
Don’t attempt to catch or identify the snake.
Pressure immobilisation bandage for a snake bite
The application of a pressure immobilisation bandage is recommended for anyone bitten by a snake. The correct application of the bandage, known as the Pressure Immobilisation Technique (PIT), will inhibit circulation of the venom through the casualty’s lymphatic system.
Starting at the fingers or toes (leaving the ends exposed), firmly wrap a compression bandage up the limb towards the torso as far as possible, and down again if the bandage length allows. The bandage should be firm enough that a finger cannot easily slide under it.
Use a pen or dirt to mark the bite site with an ‘X’, and the time if possible.
Splint the limb, keeping it immobilised and level with the rest of the body.
If the bite is on the trunk, abdomen or head and unable to be bandaged, apply firm constant pressure until emergency help arrives.
Keep the casualty calm and still. Monitor their breathing and prepare for CPR until emergency help arrives.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for a snake bite
In some cases, the person bitten by the snake may suffer a cardiac arrest, stop breathing and require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
CPR is vital to keep oxygenated blood circulating to vital organs. CPR can save someone’s life.
For CPR, give 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths, known as 30:2, until the person recovers or an ambulance arrives. If you prefer not to give breaths, just do compressions at a fast pace of 100-120 per minute. Any CPR is better than nothing at all.
Anaphylactic shock from a snake bite
Some people can have a severe allergic reaction to being bitten by a snake.
They can react to the bite within minutes, causing anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis). Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.
If someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.
If an adrenaline autoinjector such as an Epipen is available, help the person administer it, following their personal Anaphylaxis Plan or the directions on the unit.
However, symptoms of anaphylaxis and a venomous snake bite are very similar, so always continue with the correct first aid for an Australian snake bite (as above).
The Brenniston Snake Bite Comprehensive First Aid Kit is an essential item for any outdoor or remote workplace, mobile and field workers.