Life-saving lessons for snake bites ahead of warmer weather


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September 29, 2018
By Michael Black

The nerves of would-be snake handlers are being put to the test as Australia slithers into snake season.

Hands-on training sessions involving wild snakes are designed to teach handling, first aid, and provide exposure to the reptiles.

But it isn't compulsory to have a snake slide across your boots to know how to deal with them in the wild.
PHOTO: Snake handlers say most suburban callouts are to remove eastern browns. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)

Keeping a cool head
When encountering a snake, the instinct to run away may come into conflict with best practice.

Sudden movements may provoke the snake and any aggression could end up in a bite.

The safest options are to back away slowly or keep completely still.

"The first instinct, if they've got the opportunity, is to go the other way," said trainer Rudy Della-Flora.

"If you're going to start poking sticks at them, throwing stones, trying to pick them up, kick them — that's provoking them.

"Stand still, leave it alone, watch it, take photos of it — they couldn't care less."

PHOTO: A threatened snake is more likely to curl up in a dark space than attack someone (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)

Snakes are reluctant to bite humans unless they are provoked.

The conventional wisdom applies: they're more afraid of you than you are of them.

"Just imagine somebody that's 50-feet tall standing above you. You feel intimidated," Mr Della-Flora said.

"If they can, they'll turn and run. If not, they'll stand their ground and get up in their strike pose.

"It's normally bluff. What they're doing is trying to intimidate you to leave them alone."

Bites a worst-case scenario
The alarm of encountering a snake is nothing in comparison to the panic of a snake bite.

Venom is more likely to spread if victims keep moving or don't settle their heartbeat.

"First off, ring an ambulance," Mr Della-Flora said.

"Do not move at all. Whenever you move, even your fingers, you're making the venom travel through your lymphatic system quicker."

A compression bandage and a splint need to be applied after an ambulance is called.

Splints can be anything that will help immobilise the bitten limb, including a long straight stick.

"Bandage from the fingertips or toes all the way up the limb and then splint," Mr Della-Flora said.

"Apply the bandage with a splint and keep completely still ... wait for help to come to you."

The spread and effect of snake venom depends on a number of factors, including the breed of snake, its gender, the amount of venom, as well as the age and size of the victim.

First aid is designed to buy time until an ambulance arrives.

What do you do if you get bitten?
  • Call triple-0 straight away
  • Keep calm and stay completely still
  • Don't wash the bite so the venom can be identified
  • Have another person apply a firm compression bandage, moving upwards on the limb
  • Mark the bite spot for doctors to identify
  • Make a splint with something long and sturdy
  • Don't elevate the limb above the heart, to help slow the spread of venom

PHOTO: A firmly tied compression bandage will slow the flow of venom through lymphatic vessels. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)

Heat sees snakes in season

Land snakes come out of hibernation as the weather heats up across the country.

Around 100 snakes in Australia are venomous, but only a dozen could result in death.

The eastern brown snake is the second-most toxic land snake in the world and is also commonly spotted in suburban backyards.

Most states and territories recommend calling a private snake handler in these situations.

Many species of snake are protected and may not be killed unless they threaten life.

Ahead of summer, homeowners are being encouraged to keep gardens maintained and clear up woodpiles around the house.

Bushwalkers should always carry a mobile phone, satellite phone, or EPIRB for emergency situations — or shouldn't put themselves in situations where they're too remote to get help.

In the emergency situation of a snake bite, triple-000 is the first point of call.

Then, the most important thing is to stay calm. It could save your life.
PHOTO: Slowly backing away or calmly standing your ground are the safest options in a confrontation. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
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