Things to Do When You Are Bitten by a Venomous Snake
One of the most important precautions to take when outdoors or engaging in camping/nature activities is snake bite prevention. In today's article, we take a look at the worst bites and what to do if bitten!
What makes a snakebite the worst?
Short answer: there is a top five list of the most venomous Australian snakes.
- Proper bite management is crucial to prevent venom spread. Immediately after ringing for an ambulance, you should follow safety steps.
- Applying a compression bandage and immobilising the limb is important.
- Do not move at all while you are waiting for help.
- Antivenom should be administered the soonest possible if it’s necessary, to prevent lasting damage.
A List of the Five Most Venomous Snakes in Australia
Australia has quite a collection of snakes in general.
Unfortunately, many are poisonous.
Our vast, often bushy land makes quite a habitable home for snakes, so it is quite common to them - especially in bush/nature areas.
Some snakes in particular are especially deadly.
The top five venomous snakes in Australia are:
- The eastern brown snake or “common brown snake”.
- Speedy: these snakes move very quickly and can be quite aggressive.
- Can be common in rural farms/populated places
- May cause very fast consciousness loss
- Highly toxic. Passing out can occur within minutes of being bitten by this snake.
- Second most venomous land snake in the world.
- Paralysis that develops progressively
- Prevents blood clotting
- May cause very fast consciousness loss
- The western brown snake
- They can be found over the majority of mainland Australia.
- Slightly less dangerous than the eastern brown: less toxic venom. However, they inject 3x the amount of venom as the eastern brown does.
- Fast and speedy movement
- Typically will “strike and retract”: avoiding conflict if triggered and escaping, immediately after biting.
- You may not experience any pain when bitten.
- Bites can be hard to identify, as the fangs are quite small and may not leave obvious marks.
- Being nauseous
- Stomach/abdominal pain or discomfort
- Severe blood clotting disorder (known as coagulopathy)
- and at times - damage to the kidneys.
- The mainland tiger snake or the “common tiger snake”
- The snakes are nocturnal and so may be easy to be missed in the darkness when they hunt.
- They tend to strike lower along the ground and lower their neck, as opposed to “rear up”.
- May reside on farms and suburban properties.
- Easily definable by their stripes: which are ragged, anywhere from yellow to black shades and all throughout their up to 2m length.
- Highly toxic and potentially lethal bites if not addressed.
- Pain in the neck and feet
- Tingling and numbness
- Eventual trouble breathing and paralysis
- Renal failure: due to blood and muscular effects.
- The Inland taipan: (also called “fierce snake”)
- Harder to encounter and hunts for rats remotely.
- Very toxic venom: death within 45 minutes. Considered the most venomous land snake globally.
- Has bitten only a very small number of people.
- The coastal taipan
- Longest Australian fangs
- 3rd highest on the list of most venomous land snakes.
- Not fond of conflict, more shy snakes - will freeze before biting repeatedly and rapidly.
- Likes sugarcane fields
- May cause death within 30 minutes in the worst cases.
- Can be virtually always deadly without anti venom.
- Central nervous system symptoms: convulsions, damaged muscles and kidneys, and/or death.
- Internal bleeding
The eastern brown snake is the Australian snake that holds the highest amount of lethal bites annually.
The reason for this is they live in populated areas, which accounts for the increased amount of bites.
Snakes that reside in more popular areas will be more likely to come into contact with, compared to a snake that lives exclusively in the bush or more remotely.
This snake lives in the eastern side of Australia’s mainlands.
Belonging to the same species as number one on the list, the western brown snake is a slightly milder version of the eastern brown.
The mainland tiger snake is number two on the list for the highest number of Australian snake bites.
The reason is they can live in very populated places: even certain Melbourne cities.
They reside on the south eastern coast throughout Australia - from NSW, Victoria and Tasmania to South Australia.
This snake is harder to encounter, and resides in rarer and more remote places.
It can be discovered inside cracks/niches, such as on dry plains with rocks - specifically where the borders meet of NT, NSW, QLD and SA.
The same species as number 4, these have the longest Australian snake fangs (13mm!).
They can be found along the east coast - in northern New South Wales, Brisbane and north Western Australia.
Honourable mention goes to the red bellied black snake, the common death adder, and the copperhead snake.
While these may not make the list of top five they are also quite venomous snakes, and common in parts of Australia.
Where do the Most Snakebite Deaths Occur?
You may be surprised to know that 57% of Australian snake bites actually happen quite close to home.
Bites may occur inside or nearby to the home or buildings, with about 3000 happening annually in Australia.
Most of these don’t happen in metropolitan areas; and are most common in regional or rural areas.
Only about two deaths occur annually out of this figure: with 550 hospital cases.
Bites occur mainly in the warmest months of the year: and males are statistically more common victims than women.
How Can I Survive a Deadly Snakebite?
Fortunately, anti venom for snake bites is present in Australia.
But what to do if you are waiting for help or in a remote area?
- Apply a compression or “snake” bandage.
- You should always keep these bandages on hand in any first aid kit, especially when travelling in bushy or nature oriented areas.
- Camping, hiking and nature activities all pose a risk for a bite.
- Arguably the most important factor in surviving a snake bite is to avoid movement.
- You should of course ring for help immediately after being bitten, to be taken to hospital and potentially receive anti venom.
You should wrap the limb with a compression or snake bandage, designed specifically to prevent the venom spreading through the body.
Wrap the bandage around the area tightly.
Use 2 if needed or possible.
If you don’t have a bandage, use ANYTHING possible to apply the most compression able.
You can refer to our article on snake bites for complete instructions and how to use snake bite first aid supplies here.
Avoid movement at all costs.
The reason for this is that movement spreads the venom throughout the body.
Laying completely still is ideal - not moving any muscles.
Dial for an ambulance and follow the above steps while you wait: get bandaged and remain still.
What Can I do to Reduce the Effects of the Worst Snakebites?
Nowadays, we have immense access to antivenom for snakebites.
If you are bitten by a highly toxic snake, the most appropriate treatment will be the antivenom if necessary.
However, taking the above steps will reduce the danger while you wait for help.
- Some snake bites can cause lasting effects: such as kidney damage.
- You must have antivenom administered the soonest possible, to prevent lasting systemic damage.
Steps to reduce venom effect:
- Primary: immobilisation (with a splint).
- Using a splint and beginning at the bottom of the bitten limb, immobilise it.
- Use more than one bandage if you don’t have a splint.
- DO NOT remove the bandage immediately. This will cause a venom rush/potential shock.
- As a management strategy: using an emergency blanket for shock/hypothermia.
This step is crucial after compression bandaging.
It prevents venom spreading through the body, and also slows down the systemic toxicity throughout it.
This gives you hours of time to reach medical help and have anti venom administered.
Remove it slowly, taking time throughout an hour.
Receive help first.
When a bite is highly toxic, there is a risk that the victim will go into medical shock or experience low body temperature (also known as hypothermia).
Do many people die from snake bites?
No. They used to - but thanks to antivenom, we have not had many deaths since introduction. 2 annually on average.
Do I need a snake first aid kit to treat a bite?
Absolutely. You should ideally always have a snake first aid kit or one that includes snake bite supplies (bandages) on hand.
They can be purchased and restocked separately from first aid stores.
Snakes are relatively common in Australia, and may reside in populated areas.
Although a number of snake bites occur each year, death rates have been very low thanks for the introduction of anti venom.
Proper management of a bite until help arrives can make the difference between life and death.