Image via Adobe Stock
Image via Adobe Stock
Snakebite season in South Africa falls between October and April as the reptiles become more active during the warmer months of the year. The Western Cape Poison Information Helpline (PIHWC) says most snakes in the country are harmless and beneficial to the ecosystem. However, the public should watch their step while engaging in outdoor activities.
The PIHWC said snakes are not aggressive, in most cases, and will only bite when provoked. These bites usually occur when the animals feel frightened.
“Before leaving for a hike, climbing, mountain biking or camping trip, find out where the nearest medical facility is and note the telephone number,” said Dr Carine Marks, the Director of the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre.
“In the case of a snakebite, get the patient to a medical facility as soon as possible. Phone ahead to notify them of the arrival of a snakebite victim. Note that, in most cases, you have a couple of hours before serious life-threatening symptoms manifest themselves.”
Marks recommends keeping the patient still, if possible, after a snake bite. If you are alone when bitten, do not walk too fast or run, as the movement speeds up the distribution of the venom.
Contrary to what is so often seen in movies, Marks said the bite wound should not be sucked and a tourniquet should not be applied.
“ONLY in suspected neurotoxic bites (mamba or Cape cobra) is it recommended that you apply a wide crepe bandage firmly above the bite site (as tightly as for a sprained ankle) to slow the spread of venom to vital organs like the heart and lungs,” said the head of the poison information centre.
According to Marks, the life-threatening effects of the mamba or Cape cobra bites – including difficulty breathing – kicks in after 30 minutes to four hours.
The expert warned that if an individual suffering from such a snake bit is more than two hours away from medical assistance Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be required.
“The life-threatening effects of a cytotoxic snake bite (e.g., puff adder) develop late (6 to 24 hours). Comforting and reassuring the patient is a very important part of the first aid treatment,” said Marks. “Try to get a good description (or photo) of the snake.”
Marks said antivenom should only be administered by trained medical staff.
The PIHWC is a 24-hour service provided by the Tygerberg Poisons Information Centre and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Poisons Information Centre.
The PIHWC can be contacted via telephone at 0861-555-777.