Medical: Snake And Spider Bite First Aid

If you’re touring in an area that’s known to have venomous spiders or snakes, then knowing what to do if you’re bitten by one could save your life. Dr Alex Bamford gives us the run down of how to administer first aid after the event

We are lucky to live in a country where there are relatively few indigenous creatures that have the potential to cause us harm through their toxic venom. Even the native adder, a species of viper, is a rather shy snake that only bites when threatened or alarmed.

For the most part, snakes and spiders across the globe have a similar temperament to that of the common adder; that is they tend to avoid human contact and just want to be left alone to go about their business. Inevitably though, when touring through warmer climates, exploring wild areas and sleeping in close proximity to the ground, the chance of interacting with venomous snakes and spiders will increase.

Although the whole “it’s more scared of you, than you are of it” cliché is probably true, the ophidiophobes and arachnophobes amongst us would perhaps beg to differ. Phobia or not, the prospect of a hissing black mamba rearing up within striking distance and showing the colour of its jet black palate would induce a palm sweating, buttock clenching response in most sane individuals.

This article provides an overview of the common effects of snake and spider venom and the basic first aid that should be administered if you are unlucky enough to get bitten. Hopefully this will allay some of the fears and mystery of any serpentine or arachnid encounters occurring on your next trip.

Prevention

Prevention is always better than cure, particularly when you’re in a foreign country and several hours from the nearest medical facility. A few simple measures can easily reduce your chances of being bitten by a snake or spider. These points may seem like common sense but the majority of bites occur because these simple tips are not followed.

  • Avoid all spiders, snakes and snake charmers.
  • Do not attempt to pick up or play with any snakes or spiders.
  • Avoid cornering any snakes.
  • If you do happen to corner a snake, remain still until it has had a chance to escape on its own terms.
  • Avoid sleeping on the ground.
  • At night, avoid leaving any kit or equipment on the ground, particularly clothes and motorcycle boots. If you do have to, then make sure you check any clothing carefully before putting it on so you don’t end up dancing around with a scorpion in your trousers.
  • Always shake out boots before putting them on, particularly if they’ve been left on the ground over night.
  • Avoid walking around in the bush with exposed feet or ankles.

Snake and Spider Bite First Aid

  1. Make sure it is safe to approach the casualty and that the offending snake or spider is not posing a risk to you.
  2. One of the most important things you can do is to begin by acting calmly and reassuringly to the patient. Only approximately 50% of snake bites actually inject venom.
  3. Medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible either through local emergency services or transporting the patient to the nearest medical facility.
  4. Do not attempt to interfere with the bite site by sucking out the venom or applying a tourniquet. The best thing you can do is calmly lie the patient down and immobilise the affected area that has been bitten.
  5. Applying a splint to any limb bites will help reduce any unnecessary movement and the potential spread of venom. A light dressing or bandage can be applied to protect the wound site.
  6. Pressure immobilisation bandages can be used to help prevent the spread of venom. Applying a compression bandage to a limb from digits towards the body along with a splint can help delay the spread of venom. Try to mark on the bandage where the snakebite occurred on the limb.
  7. Simple pain relief can be achieved through the administration of paracetamol but anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin must not be used.
  8. It is always useful to have a description of the snake that caused the bite in order to help identify the type of anti-venom that may be required for treatment. However, attempts should not be made to capture or kill the snake for the purpose of identification.

Summary

The bottom line is that you’re pretty unlucky if you do get bitten by a venomous snake or spider. Utilising the preventative measures above along with the knowledge of the basics of first aid for managing such a bite will help reduce the chances of being bitten as well as improving the medical outcome if it does happen. It is very rare for a snake or spider bite to be immediately fatal and there is often a period of several hours during which the casualty can be extracted to the nearest medical facility. Employing the first aid techniques mentioned here will help ensure their survival in the hours following the bite. Of course the ultimate preventative measure would be to stay at home and not leave the house, but that’s not a story anyone would ever want to hear, and besides, where does one then get their sweaty palmed, buttock clenching moments from?