It would be wrong of me to write articles such as Australian Snakes and Death: Continued, if I wasn’t also prepared to write about snakes when a fatality occurs.
I have always defended snakes and played down the dangers they present to the residents of Australia. With good reason too; anyone who has read that article will know that there were apparently only 41 recorded deaths by snakebite in a 29 year period from 1980 to 2009.
That’s less than two a year. Since then, I’ve noticed many other authoritative websites quote an average of three a year. That is still really quite low and maybe takes into account those that may not have been recorded.
But just last week, about 120 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, a Warwick mother in her early 40s died after being bitten by a snake which, as far as I’m aware, has still not been identified.
The victim was in her garden when she was bitten repeatedly by the snake and the emergency services were called immediately by her son. But from what I understand, the problem here was that the snake had bitten directly into a blood vessel rather than into a muscle.
With the snake’s venom entering the bloodstream directly, she would probably have been killed within minutes.
This is highly unusual as far as I can see.
Following the incident, the country is being warned that this year could see an increase in the numbers of snakes moving into urban areas. So it’s time to be more vigilant. But it is not the time for a knee-jerk panic reaction.
The story was reported by, among others, the Courier Mail and you can read the full story here. But if you go on to read some of the many comments, you’ll see what I mean by knee-jerk reaction.
Many people want the right to kill snakes, at the moment it’s illegal. But I can assure you, more people die trying to kill a snake than those that walk away.
Others say it’s time for the government or councils to control snakes, I assume they mean a cull? Really? Which ones? All of them? We do have around 140 species.
Tongue in cheek, somebody agreed by saying that we should kill all the snakes, then the great whites, then all the sharks, murderers, bats and Toyota Prado’s. Well, they have all been known to kill.
Are snakes a serious problem?
I tried to think of some kind of comparison, something I could use to put the minds of those of you in the UK and Europe at rest.
But I couldn’t think of anything.
Truth is, everything I thought of, like being hit by a bus or getting murdered, can happen here too. But then I thought, well, it’s only the UK and Europe that have this small advantage. If I’m not wrong, every other continent has some kind of dangerous killer creature.
Almost all the others have snakes, some have lions, tigers and gorillas, and if they don’t have any of those, they’ve probably got grizzly bears.
So you can stay where you are and avoid the one in 7 million chance of a fatal snakebite if you want. I’m still glad I came.
If you are bitten by a snake.
It is essential you know what to do in the case of an emergency. Your most important equipment will be a mobile phone, to call emergency services, and a bandage to wrap around the bite.
I got this from the Courier Mall, who in turn got it from Queensland Health. I hope they don’t mind me repeating it here. I do strongly advise that you click on that link and visit their website to find out the full, updated, latest information about first-aid for snake bites.
If a snake bite occurs:
- Call 000
- Quickly apply a broad pressure bandage across the bite
- Little venom reaches the blood stream if firm pressure is applied over the bite and the limb is immobilised
- Crepe bandages are ideal but any flexible material may be used such as clothing, towels or pantyhose
- Keep patient still, including all limbs
- Do not cut or excise the bitten area
- Do not apply an arterial tourniquet
- Do not wash the bitten or stung area. The type of snake may be identified by the venom on the skin
- Pressure-immobilisation retards the movement of venom and buys time for the patient to reach medical care.
I don’t really know enough about prevention, but I’d like to get something going here. So if anyone with more experience is reading this, do let us have your tips below. So far I’ve learnt…
- Stay alert and always look around you.
- Be especially careful when walking in the grass, even in your back garden.
- Avoid very long grass.
- Take heavy steps; snakes will move away from the vibrations.
- If the birds are singing wildly, there’s probably a snake in the area.
Last week was a tragedy and my sympathy goes to the family of the bereaved. Whilst I am in no way suggesting they did anything wrong, I do think it’s a good opportunity to remind everyone of what to do if ever you were to be bitten by a snake.
According to Doctor Ken Winkel of the Australian Venom Research Unit, there are 500 to 600 hospital admissions per year in Australia due to snakebite. He also quotes an average of 2 to 4 deaths per year.
So according to my maths, well over 99% of snakebite victims do survive here in Australia. So if you do get bitten, your chances of survival are very high.