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.
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. Setopress bandages are recommended as they have indicators showing the compression limits.
- 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.