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snake bite

Alternative Names 
snake venom poisoning

A snake bite is an injury that can cause mild to severe reactions whether or not the snake is poisonous.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
  • pain
  • puncture wounds from fangs
  • blurred vision
  • blood from the wound
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • convulsions
  • excessive sweating
  • fainting
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • swelling
  • weakness
  • rapid pulse
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tissue death, or necrosis, at the site of the injury
What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
Several species of venomous snakes in Ausatralia can bite and poison humans. These include:
  • Wild snakes, such as taipans, dugites, brown snakes, adders, gwardars, tiger snakes etc
  • Captive snakes, such as cobras, mambas, and coral snakes

Usually, people are bitten while outdoors in areas where snakes are common. There are venomous snakes throughout Australia, though different snakes inhabit different parts of Australia.          
What can be done to prevent the injury? 
Being alert and prepared in areas where snakes are common is the best way to prevent snakebite. A person should:

  • Wear boots and pants to protect legs and feet.
  • Step onto logs and then across them, rather than over them.
  • Keep hands and feet out of any areas that cannot be seen.
  • Knock down high grass with a stick before walking through it or walk with the stick in front of the body, tapping on the ground to encourage snakes to move away.
  • Be aware that it is hard to identify a poisonous snake just by looking at it. Most people cannot do this. No snake should be picked up or handled without proper training.
  • Wear proper gear when handling a pet snake.
  • Avoid situations in which a pet snake might be able to escape.
How is the injury recognized? 
Snakebites are generally self-diagnosed. Usually there will be two fang marks. However, one fang mark is possible. 

Toxins from snakebite can cause significant problems with heart rate, blood pressure, and pain. Even when a snake is not poisonous, bacteria in its mouth can cause a serious infection when a person is bitten. Emergency medical care for all snakebites is crucial.

Many snakes from tropical areas and coral snakes have a poison called a neurotoxin. It interferes with the nerve impulses to the muscles that help with motion and movement. Bites from these snakes can be more dangerous and deadly than those from pit vipers. Emergency medical treatment is needed immediately.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
Antivenom is used to counter poison from snakebites. Most major hospitals have antivenom available if needed. This medicine is very expensive. It is always wise, if possible, to call ahead to the emergency room to ensure that antivenom is available to be administered quickly.

Antibiotics are often given for a few weeks when a person is bitten by a nonpoisonous snake.

When a snakebite occurs, these first-aid steps should be followed:
  • The victim should be kept calm. The site of the bite should be kept below the level of the heart and movement should be restricted. This helps keep poisons from circulating quickly in the blood.
  • The bite should be washed with soap and water.
  • Any constricting items, such as rings or bands, should be removed.
  • The bite should be covered with a clean, cool compress and a moist dressing. This will help reduce any swelling and discomfort.
  • The victim should be watched closely to make sure he or she is breathing. If there are signs of shock, such as rapid, shallow breathing or loss of consciousness, the helper should lay the victim flat and raise the feet about 12 inches above the level of the head. The victim should be covered with a blanket and help should be gotten immediately.
  • If the snake is dead, it should be taken to the emergency room so that it can be identified.

There are several things to avoid when treating someone for snakebite:
  • Cuts should not be made in the skin near the bite and no attempt should be make to suck venom out of it.
  • A tourniquet, or tight cord, should not be applied near the wound.
  • The victim should not be given anything to eat or drink.
What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Side effects of treatment for snakebite are minimal. Antivenom usually causes no significant aftereffects.

Antibiotics may cause: Other side effects vary depending on the drug.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
People given antivenom usually recover fairly quickly. However, any tissue destroyed before antivenom was administered must heal. This can take weeks or months. If a large area was affected, skin grafting and other types of surgery may be needed.

People given antibiotics after a bite from a nonpoisonous snake usually recover well.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 05/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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