What is first aid for a snakebite

Snakebite - Symptoms, First Aid, and Therapy

What are the consequences of a snake bite? What first aid measures do I take? How do I avoid snake bites and which therapeutic measures are carried out?

Here you will find the answers to your questions about "snakebite":



Snakebite Hazard?

Poisonous snakes are found especially in the warm countries of the tropical regions. Due to the global distribution of poisonous snakes, estimates of the frequency of snake bites are imprecise. It is estimated that there are 2.5 million bite injuries worldwide each year, of which around 5% are fatal.

Especially in South East Asia and India there are often snakebites, followed by the statistically African continent a followed by Australia.

Accidents with snakes often affect young locals in rural areas - tourists are not one of the high-risk groups.

Many species of snakes are very shy and not very aggressive, others are more aggressive. There are numerous species of snakes that do not produce venom and still bite. Even a venomous snake does not use any poison in half of the cases when it first bites (so-called dry snake bite). The actual danger posed by a snakebite is therefore difficult to assess on site.

With this in mind, every snakebite should be treated as a potential emergency!


Possible consequences of a snakebite

Circulatory reactions such as rapid pulse, dizziness and sweating usually occur immediately, complaints such as headaches, nausea and vomiting are common. An allergic shock from the poison is also possible.

Local reactions appear within minutes and sometimes develop very quickly. There is redness, swelling, bleeding or black discoloration at the bite site. Burning pains are common.

Generalized symptoms such as swelling or paralysis and abnormal sensations distributed over the body are caused by nerve toxins. Dizziness or visual disturbances are also often observed. Internal bleeding or extensive skin bleeding is caused by an effect on blood clotting.

Muscle pain and swelling as well as necrosis are signs of muscle damage. With pronounced tissue destruction, a fever can develop. Ultimately, it can damage the kidney and other internal organs.


First aid from snakebites

  • After a bite, the person affected should be brought out of the immediate vicinity of the snake immediately and as calmly as possible, as a second bite significantly increases the risk.

  • Professional help is necessary and should - if available - be alerted immediately.

  • The patient needs to be reassured, as panic and restlessness accelerate the distribution of the poison in the body. The fear often triggers a circulatory collapse even without being poisoned.

  • The affected limb must be positioned calmly and as low as possible. The patient should be immobilized and transported in a vehicle or on a stretcher.

  • The surface of the wound should be cleaned and disinfected, marking the bite site with a ballpoint pen or similar is useful for further assessment of the local changes. Arm or leg can be bandaged tightly downwards from the torso with wide bandages. Splinting large joints for immobilization is beneficial.

  • Rings, constricting jewelry or clothing should be removed as swelling can occur in the affected area as well as all over the body.

  • Cared for in this way, they should be transported to the hospital as quickly as possible.

  • A precise description of the snake is of course helpful - but no risk should be taken for photos or to kill the animal.


Which measures are not recommended?

Drastic manipulations of the wound such as cutting out, burning out, sucking out or even intensive rinsing with water are invariably disadvantageous for the patient. Even external agents such as potassium permanganate only lead to an intensification of the inflammatory reaction. The circular ligating of extremities with interruption of the blood flow leads to massive swelling, bleeding and accelerated tissue destruction in the affected area.


Avoidance of snake bites

  • Avoid the animals' natural habitat:
    Especially in the thicket or undergrowth on and under warm stones, snakes like to stay. Reptiles are mainly active at dusk and at night.

  • When encountering a snake, you must withdraw with calm movements and ideally give the animal a chance to escape. Hectic movements trigger a defensive stance.

  • Wear sturdy, high shoes, as the animals usually attack their ankles from a low height. Long pants are not bite-proof, special gaiters can offer additional protection in extreme situations.

  • A walking stick is helpful, as it warns the snakes in advance of the shock or, if necessary, distracts them.

  • Sleeping places should not have direct contact with the ground, and leftover food and rubbish that could attract prey must be disposed of on a regular basis.


Therapy measures in the hospital

In hospital care, symptoms are treated as a priority and the course of the poisoning is closely monitored. This requires monitoring of blood pressure, pulse, breathing, neurological values ​​and blood clotting. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the indication, an antivernin is given - if it is available. These antidotes obtained from horse serum can partially cancel out the effects of the poison and greatly improve the patient's condition. However, some effects are irreversible. In addition, the antivernin itself can trigger allergic reactions up to severe shock. Therefore, these antidotes are reserved for experienced medical personnel.

Further measures can be wound operations and the administration of antibiotics to prevent wound infection.

Monitoring in the hospital should last at least 24, better 48 hours.

Video: Snakebite Recommendations from MD Tim Erickson, Part 1


Video: Snakebite Recommendations from MD Tim Erickson, Part 2



>> further information on poisonous animals and insects

>> WHO - Guidelines for the Management of Snake-Bites (pdf document for download)



09/21/2020, Dr. med. Andrea Gontard (AG), specialist in general medicine