Outback Survival: Snakes and Snakebites

Learn how to avoid snake bites and take life-saving steps if bitten, with our Outback Survival Tips on snakes.

Australia is home to some of the world’s deadliest creatures. Sharks, crocodiles, spiders, jellyfish, and of course, snakes – you name it, we have it. 

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Australia's Deadliest Snakes

There are around 3,000 snakebites in Australia each year, with recent figures showing around 550 hospitalisations and an average of two deaths per annum. 

While 57% of snakebites happen in regional and rural areas – not in cities – the majority happen near homes or buildings. 

Getting bitten in these remote and rural areas is a serious matter, particularly due to the time and distance you may be from the nearest anti-venom. 

Below are some basic precautions you can take to reduce your chances of being bitten, and to increase your chances of survival if you are. 

Snakebite first aid can be very effective if done quickly. Bandage and immobilise the bite area and dial 000 for help immediately. In areas with poor mobile reception, dial 112.

1. Avoiding snakes and bites

Bites mainly occur when the snake is disturbed or otherwise provoked. The safest way of preventing being bitten is by avoiding snakes altogether. 

Be careful where you put your hands and feet

  •  Snakes like to hide where they can't be seen, which includes holes in the ground, rock crevices, fallen logs or long grass.
  • Use a torch if walking at night as many snakes are active after dark.

Wear protective clothing

  • Thick clothing like jeans and boots offer an extra layer of protection against bites.

Don't pick them up or interfere with them

  • Almost 1 in 5 snakebites happen when people provoke the snake. If you see a snake, give it space to move away, or go around it.

Let them know you're there

  • Snakes can't hear very well, but can sense vibrations in the ground. When walking in the bush, make noise and stomp your feet to scare off any nearby snakes.

Please note that snakes are protected. Killing or harming them is illegal and isn't necessary for anti-venom identification purposes.

2. First aid

The best treatment for a snakebite is first aid followed by anti-venom. Call 000 or 112 as soon as possible.

Snakebite first aid is simple, effective and could save a life. Always carry a first aid kit and/or bandages when out in the bush.

1. Apply a pressure bandage

  • Wrap a bandage from below, upwards and over the bite site.
  • Extend it as high as possible (e.g. all the way to the groin).
  • Keep the limb still (e.g. don't remove trousers).
  • Use the same tightness as for a sprained ankle.
  • Use a T shirt or other clothing if you have no bandages.
  • Mark the area of the bite on the bandage.

2. Immobilise the bitten area

  • Apply a splint if possible.
  • Joints to both sides of the bite should be immobilised.

3. Call for help

  • Dial 000, or 112 if you're in a remote area with poor mobile coverage.
  • Monitor symptoms.

Sadly, in almost half of all fatal snakebites, victims succumb to the venom before ever reaching a hospital. This is why it’s so important to know life-saving first aid (bandaging and immobilising the bite to slow the spread of venom) and to call for help as soon as possible – especially if you’re in a remote area. 

Tessa

In 2016-17, the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s aeromedical teams transported 26 snakebite patients in Queensland alone. 

When four-year-old Tessa was bitten by a king brown snake at her home in very remote NT, her mother and sister’s fast first-aid and quick call to 000 likely saved her life. 

The eight-hour drive to the nearest hospital wasn’t an option, so little Tessa was picked up by the RFDS from an airstrip just 2km from her home. She was in hospital receiving anti-venom within two hours of the first phone call, and made a full recovery. 

Snake bite symptoms

3. When in doubt, seek treatment

However snakebites don’t always look like snakebites, and people sometimes don’t realise they’ve been bitten straight away. The bite may look like a slight scratch or graze, or some minor swelling - there may be no pain or other symptoms. Even so, always perform first aid and seek treatment.

Symptoms of a snakebite can include:

  • Puncture marks (or small, very visible scratches)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bruising or swelling
  • Headache, confusion or dizziness
  • Blurred vision, muscle weakness or collapse
  • Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tingling, stinging or burning skin
  • Bleeding or paralysis
Alishia

Alishia was lucky to survive a snakebite. Just twelve years old at the time, Alishia was playing with her horse-riding friends at a campsite one evening when she felt a stinging sensation on her leg. A brown snake had bitten her. 

Her mother called the emergency services immediately and in just a few hours Alishia was undergoing tests. Fortunately she didn’t need anti-venom, but if she did and they’d waited, she might not have made it to the hospital in time. 

Even if you suffer a “dry” bite (when the snake doesn’t inject any venom) it’s recommended that you seek treatment. Waiting to see if you develop symptoms is always better done at the hospital than several hours away from one. 

Sources 

Health Direct https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/snake-bites 

The Australian Snakebite Project, 2005-2015 (ASP-20) 

http://www.emergpa.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/ASP-20.pdf