This Saturday marks the first national Venomous Bites and Stings Day and experts want the public to know the latest first aid so they can act fast in the case of a life-threatening emergency.
Wildlife enthusiast Dan Rumsey is no stranger to reptiles but found himself in a scary situation with a deadly snake a few months ago, as he travelled with a mate through Windorah, in outback Queensland.
“He was bitten by the world’s most venomous snake, a taipan,” Rumsey said.
“It was a very remote part of the country to be bitten by a highly venomous animal.
“It was pretty full on.
“Thankfully it was a dry bite, meaning he wasn’t envenomated, but he was still flown to hospital.”
Rumsey acted fast to administer first aid, not knowing if the deadly venom was flowing through his friend’s veins.
He applied a pressure-immobilisation bandage to the affected limb and told his friend to stay still.
“He was seated in a rest position in a car within minutes of the bite,” Rumsey explained.
They raced to the highway where paramedics met them.
From there, his friend was flown to hospital in Toowoomba, and given the all-clear.
Rumsey said staying calm and acting fast can make all the difference.
“The sooner you get the bandage on and stay still the better.
“Your body will have a slower reaction to the venom if you are envenomated.
“There was a bite in Windorah a few weeks later, which was an envenomation, and the person who got bitten was very sick.”
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Associate Professor Julian White, Head of Toxinology at South Australia’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, ran 9news.com.au through basic first aid steps should someone encounter a snake, spider or jellyfish.
When it comes to snake and spiders, there are a few species’ bites that require immediate first aid.
These are brown snakes, taipans – which are found in the remote outback and rarely bite humans – funnel web spiders and mouse spiders.
”If it’s definitely, or likely to be, a venomous snake, then the first aid is fairly clear; use a pressure-immobilisation bandage,” White said.
“That’s designed to slow venom movement from the bite site to the rest of the body.
“Place the firm bandage over the bite site and the rest of the bitten limb, over the top of clothing if there’s some in place.
“Keep the limb still with a splint, and the patient still as well.
“If it’s a big black spider, in the range of a funnel web, even if you’re not quite sure, follow the same first aid as for snake bites.”
If someone swimming in the country’s tropical northern waters encounters the box jellyfish – the most venomous animal in the world – first aid varies.
“Knowing how to resuscitate a person in cardiac arrest can be life-saving.
“Use vinegar, if at all possible, to wash the area and deactivate stinging tentacles, and provide the resuscitation support the patient may need.”
He added “the majority of snakebite deaths”, while rare, occur because of a pre-hospital cardiac arrest.
Busting some snake and spider myths
White said venomous snake bites can sometimes be missed and urged people to pay attention to both symptoms and settings they’ve been in.
He recalled an instance where a man went bushwalking in South Australia and suddenly started to feel sick.
“He was walking through longish grass, didn’t feel a snake, didn’t see a snake but developed a headache, and vomited.
“He went to the nearest town feeling unwell thinking he just had food poisoning.
“The doctor looked him over very carefully and found the tiniest of marks which were positive for brown snake venom.
“He needed antivenom treatment.”
White went on to dispel a few myths about snakes and spiders, and one of them concerns the common redback spider.
While they can be deadly, life-threatening envenomation is extremely rare and they don’t require the same level of first aid as funnel webs.
“People panic with redback bites,” he said.
“Pressure-immobilisation bandages actually make the pain worse, life-threatening envenomation is not likely to occur from a redback.
“If a person develops symptoms and the pain extends, that’s when they need to seek help.”
He then moved to address a myth about snakes.
“There’s a belief only big snakes are dangerous. Even newly-hatched reptiles from the dangerous species have enough venom to cause lethal envenoming,” he said.
“Young will start to hatch around February-March, sometimes earlier depending on the region in question.
“These animals are an invaluable part of our environment, we just need to learn how to live with them.”