Snake Bite Info
Here is a very useful article on snake bites by Mediclinic
There are approximately 180 species of snakes in South Africa. Of these, about 25 are medically significant, with much fewer being fatal. People are most often bitten on the foot, ankle or leg, or whilst sleeping (if sleeping in the veld) and most bites occur in the late afternoon or evening. Children are at greater risk of death or significant injury due
to the high poison to body mass ratio. This leaflet will help you to identify the most venomous snakes and know how to react in the event of a bite.
These snakes have highly neurotoxic venom that attacks
the nervous system. They are the most potent of the African
cobras and responsible for the majority of snake bite fatalities
in the Western Cape. Within minutes of being bitten, the bite
area begins to swell. The window period to paralysis is about
two to four hours (less in children).
Half of patients will experience respiratory failure (decreased
or disordered breathing) and may require CPR. The use of
antivenom does not reverse respiratory failure and patients
must be ventilated until the toxin is metabolised to prevent
Less than 10% of bites are fatal. Bites cause painful, progressive swelling due to cytotoxins in the venom, with swelling in the bite area progressing at 1 – 15cm per hour for up to seven days. puff adder venom also attacks platelets in the blood, causing bleeding. Antivenom use is beneficial.
Berg adder bites cause paralysis of the eye muscles and a
delayed paralysis of the respiratory muscles and can also
cause significant swelling.
Boomslang (tree snake)
These snakes have the largest eyes of all snakes.
Colouration is extremely variable, making them very
difficult to identify. Bites cause consumption of clotting
factors in blood and destruction of red blood cells and
platelets (haemotoxin). Serious symptoms can take up to
48 hours to present.
These snakes feign death when threatened. Their venom
contains a very dangerous neurotoxin, which can cause
respiratory failure but is rarely fatal. Antivenom is effective
against rinkals bites.
AVOIDING SNAKES IS YOUR BEST DEFENCE
Confrontations with snakes are common, in the event you do
encounter a snake, the best advice is to leave it alone.
Follow these steps to make sure you avoid snakes:
• Most snake bites are caused by accidentally standing
on a snake. If you are walking in the bush or veld, wear
sensible shoes and long trousers, not sandals
• Don’t walk around barefoot outside at night
(many snake bites occur within two hours of darkness)
• Keep your eyes open and watch where you’re going.
If you are mountain climbing, don’t put your hands in
places that are not fully visible
• Don’t step over logs or large rocks, as snakes may be
sunning themselves on the opposite side
• If you come across a snake, stand still and retreat slowly,
snakes never chase people
• Don’t try to kill a snake. Shooting them or hitting them
with a spade is asking for trouble
• Do not tamper with a dead snake, some of them feign
death as a defence, with the body turned to the side or
Some snakes are protected species and interfering with
them is against the law. Snakes are an important part of the
ecosystem; they feed on rodents, etc. and damaging their
population numbers out of ignorance could lead to other
problems for the community.
FIRST AID FOR SNAKE BITE VICTIMS
• Move the victim away from the snake as soon as it is safe
to do so
• Identifying the snake is helpful but not essential (if
possible, take a picture of the snake on your cell phone)
• Don’t waste time or risk further injury by confronting or
killing the snake
• Early, appropriate medical attention is essential
• Keep the patient seated and calm, panic and excess
movement will cause the venom to move around the body
• Remove jewellery and constricting garments
(cut them off with minimum movement)
• Keep the affected limb lower than the heart
• Apply a splint to the length of the limb, taking care to
pad pressure points
• Cover the entire affected limb with a firm bandage, tight
enough to allow the passage of two fingers, to inhibit the
lymphatic drainage of the limb and decrease the transport of the toxin around the body
• Monitor the victim’s respiration
• Be ready to give CPR if breathing is absent or inadequate