Snake Bite Treatment

This article has been completely revised and updated with the assistance of Bob Cooper from Snake R&R Training. Please note link in Comments to new 2017 advice from RFDS.

First Aid for Snake Bite

All venomous snake bites are medical emergencies, requiring immediate first aid and prompt transport to a medical facility for possible further life saving treatment. By applying the correct Pressure and Immobilisation Technique you can “buy” as much as twenty times the amount of time to reach a medical centre and reduce the venom flow down to a trickle into your system - which your body can cope with until you reach a hospital.

What to do if someone is bitten by a snake in Australia

  • calm them down and have them sitting upright on a log or chair
  • Call for an ambulance by dialling 000 from anywhere within in Australia. No reception? Then organise the immediate transport of the victim to medical facility. Remember over a long distance you can organise to drive the victim to meet the ambulance on route.
  • Remove boot and sock from bitten leg or on the arm remove all jewellery.
  • Do not remove clothing - because the extra limb movement will advance the venom into the body’s blood stream. You can bandage over trouser legs and shirt sleeves.
  • Do not wash the bite site – the venom on the outside of the skin is how medics can identify the type of snake that caused the bite.
  • Do not cut the bite site - that will make things worse.
  • Do not suck on the wound - you could poison yourself.
  • Do not try and catch or kill the snake – don’t need it for identification.
  • Do not apply ice – it does not help and wastes time.
  • Do not elevate the limb – elevation increases the venom flow rate.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet – because when pressure released, there is a rapid forced movement of venom into the victim’s body from the limb.
  • Now commence bandaging.

How to bandage

  • Commence bandaging, just below the knee/elbow and continue down leaving only the toes or fingers exposed. Apply by stretching the bandage until firm as you wrap downwards. Firm enough for you to be able to push only one finger under the bandage wrap. If the person is bitten above the knee/elbow then start bandaging above the bite site and continue down to the toes or finger nails.
  • Use a second bandage and start this one above the first bandage and bandage up (do not bandage over any part of the first wrapping) but do bandage over trousers/shirt sleeves.
  • Use a third bandage and again, apply this bandage upwards and high into the groin or arm pit area.
  • Check for circulation by squeezing the big toe or fingertip and the normal skin colour should return within 4 – 5 seconds – that is good. If the colour does not return or the victim complains that the bandaging is hurting, then it is too tight. You must now remove one bandage at a time and replace it with less pressure, then check the circulation again.
  • Write the time and the words “Bite Site” on top of bandage then indicate the exact location with a circle. No pen? Then use lip stick, charcoal or saliva mixed with dirt. This helps medics find the bite site quickly, then swab for a venom sample that will correctly ID the type snake of snake that made the bite.
  • Do not let the victim walk on a bitten leg – carry them or have transport come to the victim. The bandaging is only 10% effective if they walk on a bandaged leg. If the person is going to sit and wait for transport or be driven to a medical facility then immobilise by binding the hand onto the top of their knee in a comfortable sitting position.

Bites to the body or face:

  • You can only apply pressure with your hand or get the bitten person to apply as much pressure as possible with their hand.
  • o not bandage over the chest area because one of the effects of venom is that it can cause breathing difficulties and any extra restriction of their breathing could cause death.
  • In “Outback Australia” most Road House fuel stops have access to the RFDS procedures and will know where the landing strips are along with the information about the nearest hospital. Some are also ambulance depots.

Emergency Contact

All snake bites must be treated as life threatening - call for assistance to come to you. Dial 000 from a phone
Alternatively, if in a remote location, you can call the Royal Flying Doctor Service on 1800 625 800. If calling from a satellite phone dial: 08 9417 6389.

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Created: February 2012
Revised: March 2015
Latest Feedback: September 2023

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