Medi Response Summer time – snake time

It’s that time of the year when meetings with snakes are common. Walkers, hikers, gardeners, and children at play are more likely than usual to have a close encounter with a snake. The first rule is to stay alert to the possibility of the presence of snakes during spring and summer and avoid contact. In cases where there has been a snake bite, we are always on call to help with dangerous or life-threatening situations. 

KwaZulu Natal is home to several species of venomous snake including mambas, adders, and the occasional cobra. An injection of snake venom through a bite can cause paralysis, bleeding, severe swelling, or a combination of these effects. Anti-venom is available, but is not always effective in fighting some of the venom types, and some bites may not need it. There is a limit to what a first aider or general member of the public can do for someone who has been bitten by a snake. If you manage to catch a glimpse of the snake, try to remember it’s size, colour and any patterns you notice; this will help us to identify what snake it might be. A good thing to know if you are with someone who has been bitten by a snake is never to suck the venom out of the wound – it doesn’t work. Many bites don’t cause envenomation – this is the transfer of toxins from the snake to the victim during a bite.

Most snakebites lead to extremely painful and progressive swelling and applying a tourniquet is harmful in these cases. It is generally not a good idea to stop the flow of blood for snake bites where the snake species is unknown. Adders and Mozambican spitting cobras are usually responsible for this type of bite response. The swelling can become significant after a few hours, but most of these bites do not need anti-venom. Despite this, the bites can still be dangerous and medical attention should always be sought.

Black and green mambas are the culprits in the most worrying of all snakebites – those that cause paralysis with rapid onset of symptoms, and even death without early advanced medical intervention. Quick action is the key to saving lives in these cases.

The boomslang inflicts a bite that causes uncontrollable bleeding. A boomslang bite must be treated with a specific type of anti-venom, which is not carried by all hospitals. Fortunately, boomslang venom takes a few hours to work, so there is time for the bite victim to be taken to a hospital where the right treatment is available.

The best first aid for snakebites is to stay calm and quiet, physically and mentally, and to seek medical attention as an absolute priority. We will come to you, wherever you are, on or off the track. 

Please save the Medi Response number on your phone: 087 3303 911