Snakebite is more a fear than a reality. Whilst estimates of the incidence of snakebite throughout Australia is several thousand a year, of these only about 300 require antivenom treatment and on average 1-2 cases a year result in death. Bushwalkers are not identified in the statistics as a high risk group.
Unprovoked, snakes rarely attack humans. Therefore, do not disturb a snake in your pathway, simply alert the other members of your party to give it a wide berth. Always wear stout footwear and be observant. Take particular care in warm weather, long grass, hollow logs, near water or rocks in sunny positions.
In areas where snakes are prevalent it is wise to wear long trousers and/or gaiters. Although snakes cannot hear they can detect vibrations in the ground, so walk heavily to encourage them to instinctively flee from your path. When camping, use a tent with an integral floor and always zip up the doors. Use a torch at night.
Victims usually know they have been bitten. Symptoms may appear 15 minutes to 2 hours after the bite and may be mild or severe, depending on the species and the bite. Symptoms include: double vision, headache, nausea and vomiting, sweating, faintness, diarrhoea, chest pain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, swollen lymph glands in groin or armpit, drowsiness.
The principle of the treatment of snake bite is to reduce the amount of venom that reaches the blood stream by applying firm pressure over the bitten area and minimizing movement by the victim. The lower leg is the most vulnerable to snakebite when bushwalking. If a member of the party is bitten:
- Immediately apply firm pressure over the bite site.
- Lay the victim down and keep them calm and at complete rest.
- Apply a broad firm bandage to the bitten area and around as much of the limb as possible, without removing clothing if this means moving the limb. Bandage as tightly as for a sprain and work up the limb to include the joint above the bite site.
- Immobilize the limb with a makeshift splint.
- Constantly observe the patient for shock and respiratory failure.Dispatch other member/s of the party with knowledge of your location to bring outside help to transport the patient.
- If external help is unavailable, the best option is probably to rest for a day or two, and then proceed to the nearest civilisation taking care to minimize stress to the patient.
DO NOT deliberately disturb a snake.
DO NOT walk in sandals or thongs.
DO NOT cut or wash a bite - venom on bandages can be used to identify the snake, which is required to ensure the correct anti-venom is used.
DO NOT apply an arterial tourniquet.