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Top 5 things you need to do if you get bitten by a snake

A road warning sign with a snake depicted on it.
In Queensland, it pays to know what to do if you're bitten by a snake.

Whether you’re scared of snakes or you apply a ‘they won’t bother me if I don’t bother them’ attitude, if you live in Queensland, it’s good to know what you should do if you get bitten by a snake.

Snakes usually bite defensively, rather than actively attacking humans, and in Queensland it’s as common for people to be bitten around the home as it is out in the bush or other wild areas. If you’re ever bitten by a snake, keeping these tips in mind might save your life.

1. Call an ambulance immediately

You should treat any snake bite as an emergency, regardless of whether you think the snake was venomous or not. Many snakes look similar, and if you wait to see if you feel symptoms of venom poisoning, it might be too late by the time you get help.

What to do

You need to stay as still as possible, so rather than running for a phone, use a mobile phone or have someone else go and call for help. Call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance, or use the Emergency+ app to call an ambulance. This app uses GPS functionality on mobile phones to help the emergency services know exactly where you are.

2. Don’t panic and don’t move

While it’s easier said than done, staying calm and still after a snake bite can help slow down the spread of venom in your body. If you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake, not moving might save your life.

It’s a myth that snake venom gets straight into your blood stream after a bite. Instead, it moves through your lymphatic system. Lymph is a fluid in your body that contains white blood cells. Unlike blood, which is pumped around your body continuously, your lymph moves when you move your limbs. If you can stay still and calm, you can prevent the venom in your lymph traveling further into your body.

What to do

If you’re sure the snake has moved away after biting you and you’re not in danger of being bitten again, remain where you are, rather than walking to get help. If you’re with other people, they shouldn’t move you at all, but start administering first aid where you are.

Take long, deep breaths to help calm yourself down. Remember that the odds are in your favour: it’s rare for people to die after being bitten by a snake, especially if they follow first aid steps.

3. Leave the snake alone

Don’t try to identify, catch, injure or kill the snake – you’re likely to come off second best. At the hospital, staff have access to a range of tests that can help them determine the likely snake which you have been bitten by, enabling them to give you the most appropriate treatment.

A man and woman in the woods, the man holds his leg.

4. Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage and splint

Most snake bites occur on a limb, so legs, feet, arms and hands are most commonly affected. If you’ve been bitten on a limb, applying a pressure immobilisation bandage can stop the venom moving through your lymphatic system.

What to do

If you’ve got a pad or even a piece of plastic like cling wrap, put it over the bite site to either soak up or protect the venom for later testing.

Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage by following the steps below:

  • use an elasticised roller bandage (pressure bandage) that is 10-15cm wide
  • roll bandage firmly over bite site.
  • apply a second elasticised roller bandage to immobilise the whole limb, starting just above the fingers or toes and moving upwards on the bitten limb as far as the bandage will reach. It should be applied very firmly and you should not be able to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin. The idea is that it is tight enough to reduce lymphatic movement, but not constrict blood flow. (This is why you should leave the fingers or toes unbandaged—so you can monitor their colour and blood circulation).
  • if you don’t have a bandage handy, any stretchy material will do (torn up t-shirts, stockings or other fabric can be used as a bandage)

Once the bandage is on, mark the bite site on the bandage with a pen or other substance that will leave a mark – if you’ve got nothing else on you, putting a little mud or dirt on the bandage will work. Then, splint the limb to keep it still. Any straight object will do – a stick, rolled up newspaper or even firmly rolled up clothes or tarps can all work. Fix the splint in place by securing it to the limb with bandages or other material.

If you’ve been bitten on your head, neck or torso, you don’t need to put on a pressure immobilisation bandage.

You can read more about snake bite first aid, and how to apply a pressure immobilisation bandage and a splint here. There’s no substitute for learning first aid in-person, so if it’s been awhile since you last did a course, or you’ve never done one, make it a priority to book in. First Aid courses are run by many organisations including St John Ambulance Australia and Queensland Ambulance Service.

5. Don’t wash, suck, cut or tourniquet the bite

There are a lot of old methods of treating snake bites that are now known to cause more harm than good.

Washing the snake bite site can wash off venom that the hospital staff may be able to use to identify the type of snake that bit you. You should also keep clothing from around the bite site, because additional movement can cause venom to more readily move into the blood stream.

Do not suck or cut the bite area. Do not apply a tourniquet to the limb – this can be dangerous.

More information

Queensland Poisons Information Centre

Queensland’s most dangerous creatures: avoiding and responding to attacks

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Last updated: 18 December 2018