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Snake Bites: Management and Treatment

How are snakebites treated?

  • Seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
  • Apply first aid treatment:
    • Remove any jewellery or watches, as these could cut into the skin if swelling occurs.
    • Keep the area of the bite below the level of the heart in order to slow the spread of venom through the bloodstream.
    • Remain still and calm. Moving around will make venom spread faster through the body.
    • Cover the bite with a clean, loose-fitting, dry bandage.
    • The main goal is to administer the correct antivenom as soon as possible. Knowing the size, colour and shape of the snake can help determine the best treatment for a particular bite.

Antivenoms are made by immunizing a horse or sheep with the venom of a particular snake, then processing the animal’s blood serum (the watery part of the blood), which will contain antibodies capable of neutralizing the effects of the venom.

Monospecific antivenoms treat the bite of a specific type of snake, while polyspecific antivenoms can treat bites from a number of snakes found in a particular geographic region.

The following is a list of DO NOTs:

  • Do not pick up the snake or try to wrap it up or kill it, as this will increase the chance of getting another bite. Even a dead snake is able to bite.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not cut across the site of the bite marks.
  • Do not try to suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice.
  • Do not immerse the wounded area in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not drink beverages with caffeine.

What can be expected after treatment for a snake bite?

In most cases, it is necessary to remain in the hospital for up to 24 hours in order to monitor blood pressure and overall health. If blood pressure has fallen, intravenous fluids (through a needle in the arm) may be necessary. If there has been a great loss of blood, a blood transfusion may be needed.

A period of monitoring is also necessary because some people can develop a severe allergic reaction after receiving antivenom. Because of this risk, antivenom should be given only by a trained medical professional.

The time required for complete recovery will depend on the kind of snake bite. In most cases, children can recover from the bite of an adder in one to two weeks. Most adults will take more than three weeks for full recovery but 25% will need one to nine months.

Pain and swelling are common long-lasting effects in the area of the body where the bite occurred.

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