Safety tips for snake bites

IT IS WRITTEN: Dr Lindsay Murray, Consultant Clinical Toxicologist with NSW Poisons Information Centre, advises people to take precaution to avoid snake bite, to seek medical attention if bitten, and supports the excellent medical treatments systems in place in our local hospitals.
IT IS WRITTEN: Dr Lindsay Murray, Consultant Clinical Toxicologist with NSW Poisons Information Centre, advises people to take precaution to avoid snake bite, to seek medical attention if bitten, and supports the excellent medical treatments systems in place in our local hospitals. Cathy Adams

A DANGEROUS myth persists that catching the snake that bit you will aid in your treatment, according to a local doctor who literally wrote the book on treating poisons.

Dr Lindsay Murray now living near Mullumbimby, is the author of The Toxicology Handbook published in 2007 when he was running a Toxicology Treatment Centre in Perth and the national network of Poisons Information Centres.

It's a widely consulted resource in hospitals and emergency departments around the country.

Dr Murray said using visual identification of a snake to determine treatment was notoriously imprecise.

Instead, the decision to treat and which antivenom to use is based on geography, serial clinical and laboratory tests, and a snake venom testing process that involves swabbing the bite site or a urine sample from the victim.

This process accurately determines which of the five available snake anti-venoms should be used.

"Snake identification is a very specialised business. People have died as a result of getting the wrong snake anti-venom as it was identified incorrectly," he said.

Despite the medical community's best efforts it's a furphy that seems will not die.

Dr Murray has even on one occasion nearly been bitten himself after a victim brought a deadly snake into hospital in a bag for identification purposes without alerting him that it was still alive.

Another myth persists that it's crucial that anti-venom be administered to all snake-bite victims as soon as possible to boost chances of survival.

Dr Murray said instead, there was often a period of prolonged observation and assessment in hospital that could take hours of monitoring to determine whether anti-venom was even required as there were a lot of "dry bites".

There are potential side effects from anti-venom and allergic reactions are common so it is only administered when absolutely necessary.

That's why the treatment was only given in hospital with staff who are trained to manage adverse advents.

He advised everyone bitten by a snake to seek medical attention regardless of whether they were experiencing symptoms as they did not always show up immediately.

Lismore Base Hospital is not only the most equipped facility in the region for snake bites but also has among the most experienced staff in the country as a result of the comparatively high number of snake bite victims they have to treat, Dr Murray said.

Snake stats

  • Less than two people a year on average die from snake bites in Australia.
  • About half a million people world-wide die from snake-bites but they are mostly in remote areas of Asia, Africa and Papua New Guinea
  • About 200 people a year require anti-venom in Australia.

Most common local snakes

  • The two most common snakebites in the Northern Rivers are the Eastern Brown Snake and the Clarence River Rough Scaled Snake.
  • The venom from both can cause life threatening bleeding complications.
  • The Clarence River Rough Scaled Snake is part of the Tiger Snake Group so if a patient has been bitten by one they will be given the Tiger Snake antivenom.

Topics:  health snake bite snakes

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