Snake bites: what to do

accreditation
iStock

Globally there are a staggering number of snake bites each year. Here's how to prevent snake bites and what to do if someone gets bitten.

Persons who frequent wilderness spots or like to camp, hike or picnic, should be aware of the potential dangers posed by venomous snakes.

A bite from a snake should always be considered a medical emergency as you may not know whether or not the snake is venomous. Even a bite from a so-called "harmless" or "non-poisonous" snake can cause a serious infection or allergic reaction in some individuals.

Although medical professionals sometimes disagree on the best course of action when treating a poisonous snakebite, a few basic steps in terms of snakebite first aid are always advocated. These include:

  • Keeping the person still, calm and quiet in order to prevent the spread of venom.
  • Washing the bite wound with soap and water. Don't cut into or suck on the bite in an effort to "drain" the venom.
  • If the snake has spat venom into the eyes, rinse them copiously with water for at least fifteen minutes.
  • Immobilising the bitten area and keeping it lower than the heart. Don't apply any form of tourniquet.
  • Don't administer any type of pain relief medication (unless otherwise instructed by a qualified medical practitioner), especially not aspirin as this thins the blood.
  • Don't allow the patient to eat or drink anything, especially not alcohol.
  • Only administer anti-venom under the direction of qualified medical help – it can do more harm than good if used under incorrect circumstances.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible.

Prevention is better than cure and being aware of the dangers associated with snakebites goes a long way towards avoiding being bitten. Leave snakes alone – don't try to get a closer look or kill them.

Wear thick boots, stay on paths when hiking and be careful in places where you can’t see properly (including darkened rooms).

Differing symptoms guide professionals as to the nature of the venom and thus direct treatment. All bites, however, should receive urgent attention.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24