Snake Bite First Aid in Australia: What You Need to Know in an Emergency

Fancy the chance of helping to save somebody’s life? Then read on…

I was driving home from Bunnings a month ago, the car filled to capacity with flatpack garden furniture as I prepared for spring. Five minutes from home, I just about managed a minor swerve to avoid squashing the head of a snake who was rather foolishly crossing the road, in poor lighting, where there was no pedestrian crossing.

But then I suppose slithering isn’t the same as walking, so snakes are not pedestrian. Anyway.

I didn’t take a picture of the snake, because of the many things more dangerous than snakes, taking photographs whilst driving is one. Here is what it kind of looked like though…

snake in road

The date of this event, to be precise, was 11 August, so still what we laughingly call ‘winter’ here in Brisbane. The point is though, this was my first snake sighting of the 2018/19 season and confirms that snakes are, once again, waking up from their short slumber.

At that moment I realised that for all the posts I’ve put on this website about snakes in Australia, I’ve never actually spoken about the first-aid procedure in a snake bite emergency.

Today that will change.

Snakebite first-aid

There are lots of first-aid videos online showing how to deal with this emergency, but I quite liked this one out of all the ones I looked at. More than anything, it shows you how calm you can remain when applying the bandages; panicking is never going to help.

Over to Bob Cooper…

Of course, this is a medical matter, so let’s get a second opinion from St John Ambulance Qld…

Worth knowing

First off, it’s important to know that the venom from the snake doesn’t travel through the blood system initially, it uses the lymphatic system. It doesn’t reach the blood until it gets to a lymph node. Lymph nodes are mostly found in the neck, armpits, and groin areas.

The difference is that blood is pumped around the body by the heart, it’s a circulatory system. The lymphatic system works on muscle contraction and movement.

That’s why it is essential to stay as still as possible. Even moving your fingers moves muscles in your arms at the same time, so just the tiniest movement can help spread the venom up your body.

Your heart beating though, that’s just going to continue circulating blood around your system, and that’s a good thing. That’s why it’s wrong to use a tourniquet.

A tourniquet is, for example, to stop the loss of blood following, say, a shark attack. But that’s a different post for my Australia’s Bad Things category.

Back to snake bites.

The importance of bandaging and immobilisation

Apparently, a good bandaging and immobilisation as illustrated in either of the above two videos can stem the movement of the venom around your body for many hours, 5, 6, or maybe even more, which should be plenty of time to get you to a hospital.

On the other hand, an untreated brown snake bite can kill in under a half an hour, it’s arguably the quickest killing snake venom in the world. That’s how important knowing how to do this really is.

Compression bandaging is so important, that even if you do not have a bandage, use anything you can get your hands on to do the job instead. T-shirts, a pair of jeans, or any type of clothing; even garbage bags have been used with success.

Best advice though is to buy a few snake first-aid kits, you can pick up basic ones for around $20, and keep them in your car, your house, and if you’re going out trekking in the bush, pop one in your bag. It could save your life or that of a loved one.

I’m sure you’ll agree, this is a first-aid technique well worth knowing, but there are some things you just should not do.

What NOT to do following a snake bite

  • do not try to clean the area of the bite or identify the snake, snake identification kits can work with traces of the venom left on the bite site
  • do not try to suck the venom out, this isn’t a Crocodile Dundee film
  • do not remove the bandages once they are on; leave them on, they should only be removed at the medical facility
  • do not use a tourniquet, as mentioned above

Most of all though, whatever you do, don’t by chance come across the following video on YouTube and think it is the right thing to do.


In fact, armed with the knowledge above, you can count for yourselves just how many ways it is wrong. This is Russell Coight from his show All Aussie Adventures..

Scared of snakes?

Australia has a fearsome reputation for its snakes, but the reality just isn’t so bad.

Best estimates suggest that there are between 2000 and 3000 snake bites in Australia each year, and only a small number of those, I’m told 500 or so, need hospital treatment.

25 million people live in Australia, so by my maths, you have, at worst, a 1 in 8333 chance of getting bitten each year and a 1 in 50,000 chance of needing to go to hospital for treatment.

I try to keep a record of all my snake sightings and you can read about them in my post The Australian Snake Season Part 2: Avoiding Snake Encounters. On average, I see about one a year I reckon, and for most Australians, that’s as bad as it gets when it comes to snakes.

Finally, for those who need to know

Five minutes after narrowly avoiding hitting that snake, I was travelling back down the same road in the opposite direction to collect a second carload full of garden furniture. I drove very slowly down that stretch of road, with my snake handling gear, also known as a broom, (you have seen my Snake in the House video, haven’t you?) in the boot.

No rescue (sweeping) was required. No snake in sight whatsoever, whether squashed or still crossing the road. Looks like he survived.

So, no snakes were harmed in the making of this post.

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