Snake danger

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Many South African snakes are poisonous. Although there are more than 3 500 known species of snakes in the world, only 200 are poisonous to humans.  Know what to do in case of a snake bite.

Many snakes found in suburban areas may be poisonous. The type of poison, and the effects on your child, if bitten, depend on the species of snake.

The more important venomous snakes in South Africa include:

Adders: Most adder poison, or venom, causes local tissue destruction. This results in massive local swelling, some blistering, tissue destruction and severe pain. 

Cobras and mambas: These snakes have venom which causes muscle paralysis, which means that your child may not be able to breathe. The poison usually takes effect within 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Boomslang: This is a rare bite. The venom will cause severe generalised bleeding within 48 hours.

Signs
Look for bite marks on the skin.

Management:
In the case of a snake bite, take the patient to a medical facility, preferably the emergency department of your nearest hospital, as soon as possible.  The Tygerberg Poison Information Centre may be contacted for further information (021 931 6129, 24-hour service).

Home treatment
General first aid measures include lying the child down and immobilising the part of the body which has been bitten.
Cutting or sucking the wound, or using alternative remedies, are useless.
If a snake spits venom into your child's eyes, wash the eyes immediately with large amounts of water, preferably by holding the child's head under a running tap or a shower and then take the child to a medical facility as soon as possible.
Always have the telephone number of the Poison Information Centre and your nearest medical facility available.

This article was reviewed and updated by Dr Joy Veale on 23 February 2009.

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