While the chances of a snake bite are fairly low the consequences of a snake bite can be very serious or even fatal. Most venomous snake bites in Victoria are from tiger or brown snakes.
There are 100 to 200 severe cases of snake bite that need antivenom in Australia each year. Half of all cases involve people interfering with snakes and one in ten cases are snake handlers. More about statistics are here.
Snakes may occasionally be encountered while bushwalking. Unprovoked, snakes rarely attack humans. Therefore, do not disturb a snake in your path and alert 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.Watch and look out when stepping over logs or gathering firewood.
Wear long trousers and/or gaiters in areas where snakes are prevalent. Snakes cannot hear but they can detect vibrations through the ground, so walking heavily (stomping) may warn them of your presence and encourage them to flee from your path. When camping, use a tent with an integral floor and always zip up the doors. Use a torch at night.
While some victims know they have been bitten, some do not. 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.
Seek immediate medical help by calling 000 Emergency Services and advise the walker's emergency contact person.
The principle of the treatment of snake bites is to slow the movement of the venom in the body down by keeping as STILL as possible and apply firm pressure at the entry point.
When it bites, a snake injects venom into tissue, not directly into your bloodstream. Venom then travels from tissue fluid into the lymphatic system and will eventually flow into veins then enter the bloodstream. Applying a pressure bandage around the location of the snake bite and immobilising the patient slows down the movement of lymph fluid.
The lower leg is the most vulnerable to a snake bite when bushwalking. When someone 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. Bandages with indicators showing the compression applied are recommended.
Immobilize the limb with a makeshift splint.
Constantly observe the patient for shock and respiratory failure. Dispatch other members 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 then proceed to the nearest civilisation taking care to minimize stress to the patient.
Do NOT remove bandages or splints on reaching medical care, the treating doctor will make that decision.
DO NOT deliberately disturb or try to kill a snake. DO NOT walk in sandals or thongs. DO NOT cut the location of the bite.
DO NOT wash the skin - traces of venom left behind might be needed by medical personnel to identify the snake
DO NOT apply an arterial tourniquet. DO NOT attempt to suck the poison from the site of the bite.
Bushwalking Victoria has published an updated Bushwalking Manual that provides guidelines and information for safe, enjoyable community-based volunteer bushwalking in Australia. The manual includes contributions from other state and territory peak bushwalking organisations.
Feedback and suggestions are welcome and can be provided using links on the feedback page.
Where to find paper maps for bushwalking and how to print them
Recent press reports have highlighted the decision by Geoscience Australia to cease printing its 1:250,000 topographical maps in December 2019, but this should not be a major problem for bushwalkers in Victoria. 1:250,000 (1cm to 2.5km) is not a scale most walkers use, as these maps provide insufficient detail. Good detailed maps covering Victoria at 1:25,000 (1cm to 250m) and 1:50,000 (1cm to 500m) are available in electronic form and many are also available as paper maps. These scales are far more useful out on the track.
Paper maps can be purchased from suppliers such as Vicmap (mainly 1:50,000), Spatial Vision and Meridian – see Finding Maps for Walking in Victoriafor a detailed list of sources, including shopfront and online suppliers.
If, rather than purchasing a paper map, you want to print one of the many electronic maps which are available from a variety of sources (including any of the Geoscience 1:250,000 maps) it’s relatively easy.
Many maps are produced in geopdf format. This allows the maps to be displayed and used in navigation software and apps. It also allows them to be easily printed to the correct scale using free software e.g. Adobe Acrobat reader. A walk leader can use an electronic map for navigation with their smartphone and carry the identical paper map.
Here are some options if you wish to have a printed copy of a geopdf map – either a whole map or part thereof.
Print the whole map:
Take the geopdf file to your local printer. It will cost about $20 for an A1 sheet and a little more if you want it on more robust waterproof paper, OR
Print the map as smaller tiles and stick them together. You can do this at home, using Adobe Acrobat reader. Open the required map, press ‘Print’ then press the ‘Poster’ button. Ensure ‘Tile Scale’ is on 100% and ‘Overlap’ is set at 1cm. ‘Cut marks’ should be checked to make putting the tiles together easier.
The preview screen will show how the map image will be tiled. Press print. Trim/assemble the sheets.
Print part of the map:
Open the map in Acrobat reader. Click on the ‘Edit’ menu and then ‘Take a Snapshot’. Highlight the desired area and press print. Press ‘Size’ and ensure ‘Actual size’ is checked. Your selected area will be shown in the middle of a sheet. If your selected area is larger than one sheet, you can poster print in tiles as described above.
What to do if you don’t have a colour printer:
Most modern computers can make a pdf file through the Print interface. Instead of printing to a physical machine, you can make a pdf file instead. Use the above instructions and just change the setting under ‘Printer’ to the pdf driver.
You can change the paper size to A3 under ‘Properties’ if you have a larger area to cover, or want bigger map tiles. Place the saved pdf file on a USB thumb drive and take it to your local self serve colour photocopier/printer.
Poster printing is a quick and cheap way to produce reasonable-quality larger maps from geopdf’s. You can use waterproof paper too, if you wish: ‘Rite in the rain 8512’ paper can be used in a laser printer; it’s about 30 cents an A4 sheet.
When printing from electronic maps, please remember to respect copyright. Personal use only.