First aid

Updated 24 February 2015

Why you shouldn't panic when a snake bites you

It is important not to panic after being bitten by a snake – speeding to get to a hospital might be more dangerous than the snakebite.

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Did you know that the majority of snake bites are not venomous, but because patients go into a state of panic they put themselves at risk of severe danger?

Panicking increases blood circulation

"There have been patients who suffered serious injuries from motor vehicle incidents en route to hospital due to speeding," according to Doctor Vernon Wessels from ER24.

He said it is important to remain calm. "Panicking also increases blood circulation which could be detrimental."

Although research shows that a small percentage of bites are from venomous snakes, Dr Wessels advised that anyone bitten should visit a medical practitioner.

Read: Snake bites – What you should do

Snake fangs are not sterile and therefore the puncture wounds can easily be infected. "This could lead to most commonly a condition called cellulitis," he said.

This is an infection of the tissue under the skin and depending on the bacteria involved, can be serious and life threatening.

"Apply a bandage to the area as this limits lymphatic drainage. Immobilise the limb if possible to limit movement,” said Dr Wessels.

A medical practitioner will be able to assess the likelihood of the bite being venomous, the depth of the bite and possibility of underlying structure damage, for example tendon sheaths or joint spaces that may have been penetrated.

View: 12 dangerous snakes

“A booster tetanus injection may be required as this is a serious life threatening condition that is easily preventable through vaccination,” said Dr Wessels.

The doctor will give advice on what to look out for and schedule a follow up visit if necessary.

Snake expert Arno Naude, who is often consulted regarding snake bite incidents, offered three tips.

  • Do not wash or cut the wound or try to suck out the venom.
  • Do not use home remedies. No ice, heat packs or electrical shocks should be used. Alcohol and aspirin should be avoided.
  • Tying a tourniquet around the bitten limb is a recipe for disaster in most instances.

Read: Quick snake facts

"If you see a snake, try to get away. If you are more than two body lengths away from the snake, walk around it. If you are closer than that, freeze and try to determine which direction the snake is moving in. Try another direction for yourself. If the snake is approaching, a quick exit is safer."

Naude said bites from potentially lethal snakes could cause traumatic injuries through tissue destruction or neurological problems.

Smaller adders and snakes, like Burrowing Asps, can cause swelling, pain and tissue death (necrosis).

Naude said that snake venom can kill by either causing the muscles to stop functioning which causes paralysis and suffocation. “It can possibly cause the body to go into shock and the organs to shut down. It can also in some cases cause you to bleed uncontrollably which will cause your death.”

He pointed out the five most commonly encountered lethal snakes are the Spitting Cobra, Puff Adder, Snouted Cobra, Cape Cobra and Black Mamba.

See if you can identify them:

The Snouted Cobra. (Shutterstock)

The Puff Adder. (Shutterstock)

The Black Mamba. (Shutterstock)

The Cape Cobra. (Shutterstock)

Also read:

Become a snake wrangler

1000s deadly snakes kept as pets

After ovulating women spot snakes faster

 

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