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Avoiding and treating snake bites in Australia

Snake bites are, unfortunately, reasonably common in Australia. This fact should come as no surprise, considering the country is home to eleven of the world’s most poisonous snake species. However, in true Aussie spirit, this does not stop travellers and locals camping and bushwalking.

To ensure your outdoor adventures are safe and enjoyable, there are some simple precautions you can take to avoid a nasty bite. On the other hand, if prevention proves impossible, you must be ready to treat an injury – so brush up on your first aid skills!

Avoiding snake bites

First, do your research! Regardless of where your next adventure is, it’s important to know which snakes are native to the area. We suggest becoming familiar with the physical appearance of the snakes, their preferred habitats, how poisonous they are and how to react in their presence.

Native snake

The following steps will help you avoid a nasty snake bite:

  1. While bushwalking, be careful holding onto low branches. Snakes are renowned for slithering up trees, making it very easy to mistake a snake for a branch. This could result in a nasty bite on the hand or arm.
  2. If camping, pitch a tent in an area where snakes are less likely to reside. Avoid areas with long grass, a rocky surface or low-lying branches.
  3. Avoid reaching or dipping your hands into holes, rock formations or crevices if you can’t see what’s in them.
  4. Ditch the thongs and wear protective clothing such as long trousers, thick hiking socks and boots – research has shown approximately 90% of snake bites are to the ankle.
  5. Take caution if swimming or fishing in lakes or rivers after heavy rain. Water snakes can have lethal bites.
    Snake Bites Australia - Water snake
  6. Avoid stepping over logs and thick branches. Instead, step on the log – a snake may be lying on the other side enjoying the summer heat. Let’s be real – who would enjoy being stepped on whilst soaking up the sun?
  7. Keep in mind snakes can attack at any point and from any position. Just because they may look calm or harmless, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. In most states of Australia, snakes are protected by the law, so don’t be tempted to kill them.
  8. Snakes don’t hear; instead, they feel vibration. It is important to restrict your movements when encountering a snake. If you run, wave your hands or stomp aggressively, it can be interpreted as a hostile action and the snake may launch an attack. Note:  if a snake has its head raised, it may already be preparing to attack.
    Snake Bites Australia - Preparing to attack
  9. Last but not least: be alert… always!

First aid for snake bites

Although you now have ‘avoiding a snake’ down pat, it’s crucial to know exactly what to do in the case of a bite!  First, before anything else, dial 000 (in Australia) to get help from emergency services.

If you’ve been bitten, your skin will be irritated immediately and have visible puncture marks. This may be followed by symptoms of nausea, headaches or drowsiness. Additional symptoms may include difficulty focusing, double vision, chest or abdominal pain as well as shortness of breath. This can all be a result of the venom spreading. It is vital that you act fast before the deadly venom makes its way to the heart. Next, we suggest conducting the first aid technique of Pressure Immobilisation:
Pressure – Apply a broad constrictive bandage to the affected area to reduce the toxic spread of venom.
Immobilisation –  Prevent movement of the affected area.

Snake Bites Australia - First Aid

The following procedure should be completed immediately:

  1. Apply a constrictive bandage starting at the bite. Apply it firmly but not too tight so it restricts the flow of blood in the body – monitor the limb to ensure it does not go numb.
  2. Work the bandage towards the heart, applying the same pressure as you would to a sprained ankle.
  3. Wrap the bandage as far up the limb as you possibly can, being careful not wrap too firmly. Note: leave the extremities of the affected limb unexposed.
  4. Stay calm and as still as possible.
  5. Apply a splint over the bandage to immobilise the affected limb.

Although Australia is home to 11 of the 12 deadliest and venomous snakes in the world, it’s still possible to have the time of your life (while staying safe) when camping or bushwalking! Just take precautions, be careful and stay alert!

Have fun and travel safe!

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