This post is also available in: Svenska
It’s the summertime, and everyone is out! I’m not only referring to us humans, but also the mosquitoes, ticks and especially the snakes that have lain dormant all winter. In Sweden, we only have one type of naturally occurring, venomous snake – the viper. Vipers often have the characteristic zigzag pattern on their backs, and can also be completely black. They are usually very shy and slip away as soon as a person approaches. However, if they are trampled on or surprised, they can bite. About 30% of the bites are ‘dry bites’, meaning that the snake bites but does not inject any venom.
In many other countries, namely Australia, there are numerous different types of venomous snakes. And thus, snakebite first aid is often different according to different parts of the world. In this blog, you will find advice about what to do when your child, or you, has been bitten by a snake.
Snakebite first aid
Most snakes inject poison when they bite. In some parts of the world, it is uncommon for the venom to cause serious reactions. In other parts though, the venom is neurotoxic. This means that the venom can damage the victim’s nervous system.
Children are more sensitive to venom than adults. This is probably because they weigh less and thus receive a higher dose of poison in relation to their body weight.
Snakebites hurt. At the site of bite, you will usually find two small fang marks at intervals of about 3-9 mm. Anyone who has been bitten by a snake should seek medical attention immediately. Children bitten by snakes should be admitted to emergency care.
What to do when your child has been bitten by a snake
- Move away from the snake while keeping the bitten body part as still as possible. This may mean that the child must be carried and laid down to rest elsewhere.
- Remove shoes, watches, bracelets, rings, etc. even before the swelling occurs.
- Do not touch the bite site – do not try to suck out the poison, cool, cut, heat, lace off or the like.
- And most importantly, KEEP THE CHILD AS CALM AS POSSIBLE to slow the spread of venom.
Many organizations, including the American Medical Association and American Red Cross, recommend washing the bite with soap and water. However this is not the case in Australia. Because in Australia there is a higher likelihood of being injected with neurotoxic venom, it is recommended that you do not wash the venom off and apply the pressure immobilization bandage technique (see St. John’s First Aid Fact Sheets: Snake bites). Traces of venom left on the skin/bandages from the strike can be used to determine which antivenom to administer in the emergency room.
Treatment of snakebites in hospital differ in every country
Treatment, antivenom protocol, observation time and supportive care are dependent on local guidelines in your country and according to the breed of snake that strikes.
In Sweden, we usually want to observe the child in the hospital for at least 24 hours. If we do not see any local reactions and the child feels completely well for the first hours, it is considered a dry bite (no poison). Then the child can go home after 6 hours of observation. It is usually sufficient to observe and treat the symptoms. However, in severe cases, antivenom is sometimes given. When presented with a child with a snakebite, we also decide whether a booster dose of tetanus vaccine is needed.
Snake venom can damage tissues and blood vessels, lead to swelling, pain and discoloration of the skin. The poison can also destroy blood cells, affect the blood’s ability to coagulate, damage the kidneys or cause an allergic reaction. In rare cases, the snakebite can cause serious illness including difficulty breathing, lethargy / unconsciousness, and shock symptoms within a few hours of the bite. Signs of a severe reaction are vomiting, diarrhea, severe nausea, palpitations, dizziness, pale and cold sweaty skin or difficulty breathing. Severe swelling or discoloration are also signals a more severe reaction that should be observed for more than 24 hours.
Snakes like to cozy up in small, warm places and near readily-available water sources. Bushes, high grass and holes under the house foundations are also likely places for snakes to hide. They do not like open areas with short-cut grass. Sometimes you can see them lying and sunbathing on hot rocks in the forest. Teach your child never to touch or try to pick up snakes. Boots and long pants protect the feet and legs quite well.
If you have snakes on your plot of land, it is usually not enough to just move them. They will return quickly. Rather clear away debris that they can hide in. Keep the grass short, close holes and pits under the house and make the area unattractive, even to rodents.