The festive season is approaching and many South Africans have already made their holiday plans. The ‘great outdoors’ has always held attraction, with camping close to nature and the bushveld being popular choices.
South Africa has few dangerous animals, but does have several venomous snakes, including the Cape Cobra, Puff Adder and Boom Slang or tree snake – a fact which is often not taken seriously by holiday makers or those living in snake infested areas.
Persons who frequent wilderness spots or like to camp, hike or picnic, should be aware of the potential dangers posed by venomous snakes. A bite from a snake should always, according to the American Red Cross, be considered a medical emergency as one may not know whether or not the snake is venomous.
“Even a bite from a so-called ‘harmless’ or ‘non-poisonous’ snake can cause a serious infection or allergic reaction in some individuals,” says Dr Dan Nevin of Netcare 911.
Although medical professionals sometimes disagree on the best course of action when treating a poisonous snakebite, a few basic steps in terms of snakebite first aid are always advocated. These include:
- Keeping the patient still, calm and quiet in order to prevent the spread of venom
- Washing the bite wound with soap and water (do not cut into, on suck on, the bite in an effort to ‘drain’ the venom)
- If the snake has spat venom into the eyes, rinse them copiously with water for at least fifteen minutes
- Immobilising the bitten area and keeping it lower than the heart (do not apply any form of tourniquet)
- Do not administer any type of pain relief medication (unless otherwise instructed by a qualified medical practitioner), especially not aspirin as this thins the blood
- Do not allow the patient to eat or drink anything, especially not alcohol
- Only administer anti-venom under the direction of qualified medical help – it can do more harm than good if used under incorrect circumstances
- Get medical help as soon as possible
Prevention is better than cure and being aware of the dangers associated with snakebites goes a long way towards avoiding being bitten. Leave snakes alone – do not try to get a closer look or kill them.
Wear thick boots, stay on paths when hiking and be careful in places where you can’t see properly (including darkened rooms).
“Differing symptoms guide professionals as to the nature of the venom and thus direct treatment. All bites, however, should receive urgent attention,” concludes Dr Nevin.
- Information provided by Netcare 911