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Writer Erin Walton shows us how to be snake smart in rural Australia, where the reptiles thrive and help could be far away. But be aware, this article has been written for a non-medical publication and was compiled using material available from a number of sources online. It is not intended to be used as medical advice.
Text: Erin Walton

icture this: You’re on holiday in Australia, hiking with friends in the bush. It’s Saturday, and you’re all going to a nearby waterfall to enjoy a picnic. The group’s having a great time working up a sweat, chatting and listening to the crackle of leaves underfoot. Occasionally, a bird calls. The sun’s shining, and you’re happy to be outdoors. Then, out of the blue, your day changes. Another sort of call is heard – this time, a human one. You run around the corner of the trail to see that one of your friends has accidentally stepped on a snake and has been bitten. They’re sitting on the ground, clutching their ankle, almost in tears and with panic painted across their face. The happy buzz you felt all morning has gone in a flash. What do you do?

Even though Australia has an incredible array of poisonous animals and insects, 84% of people don’t know how to treat a venomous creature’s bite or sting, according to a 2013 survey by BioCSL, a leading vaccine manufacturer. Julian White, an Australian toxicologist, reminds us that a working knowledge of first aid is invaluable. “It’s important to remember that knowing proper first aid might save your life — or someone else’s, particularly if you’re in a remote area with limited access to a doctor,” he says. If you were visiting the Australian bush, wouldn’t you like to be prepared?

In Australia, it may seem like everything out there is trying to bite, sting or attack you. The waters are home to sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish, stone fish and blue-ringed octopus; and the bush is the perfect place to find dangerous creepy crawlies like paralysis ticks, scorpions, centipedes, ants and spiders — even before we arrive at the ever-feared snake.

But should you panic? Before you answer, consider that many Australians almost never see a dangerous animal. While Australia may be home to many venomous creatures, they’re not interested in humans, and their natural habitats are also often far from where you, as a tourist, would visit. With the proper precautions, there’s no reason why a visitor to Australia should be afraid of having an unwanted meeting with a venomous creature.

Our low-bellied friends

Snakes strike a lot of fear into the hearts of travellers wanting to visit Australia. But while they may look beastly, they’re not the evil human-killers that movies make them out to be. In fact, while roughly 3,000 people are bitten by snakes each year, thanks to the development of anti-venom, only a few of those bites are fatal. Not only that – snakes are unlikely to attack humans at all: Bites usually occur after a snake is threatened or accidentally stepped on.

Prevention is better than cure

While there are dozens of snakes in Australia, the most dangerous ones are the taipan, brown snake, redbellied black snake, tiger snake and death adder. And in the world of snake bites, as with many potential health problems, prevention is better than cure.

While you might be tempted to pack anti-venom in your hiking daypack, the Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) actually advises against it. When visiting rural Australia, the AVRU notes that you’re far more likely to be hurt in a fall, because of dehydration, or in a car accident. If you’re going to be in rural Australia, follow these tips:

Be snake smart in rural Australia:

● Hike in groups of four or more. That way, in the event of injury, one person stays with the victim and two others find help.

● Let snakes know you’re there. Walk heavily, stomping your feet as you go. Snakes sense movement by vibration, and this will warn them of your presence and encourage them to keep away.

● Never try to catch or touch a snake, even if it’s small or you don’t think it’s dangerous.

● Don’t put your hands in places where snakes might be, such as hollowed out logs, behind or under bushes or rocks.

Sometimes, however, even the best plans go awry. If you or one of your hiking buddies is bitten by a snake, remember these simple snakebite Dos and Don’ts

Snakebite dos:

● Act immediately. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear or for the victim to feel pain.

● Try to remain calm, and especially keep the victim calm. If the victim’s heart rate accelerates, venom will be pushed throughout the body.

Treat all bites as suspicious and serious. Tightly wrap the wound site with a bandage, but not so tightly that you cut off the blood supply. If the victim’s arm or leg was bitten, wrap up the limb from the bite site, covering most of it. Later, splint the site.

● Remember that Australian doctors recommend not washing the wound before treating it, as they will need a sample of venom to identify which snake bit you.

● Get medical help as soon as possible.

Snakebite don’ts:

● Don’t allow the victim to walk because this can also move venom through their body. Instead, break your group into two; have someone stay with the victim, while two others go for help.

● Don’t suck the wound – that’s only in old cowboy movies!

● Don’t try to catch the snake. Remember, snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them and are more likely to attack when they feel threatened.

● Don’t kill snakes; they’re a protected species in Australia. Instead, if you see one in or near your garden or home, call a professional snake catcher.

It’s true that Australia’s skies, seas, deserts and bushes are full of dangerous creatures that can cause serious harm to humans and other animals. But when it comes to planning your Australian holiday, preparation is more important than panic.

SUPER SNAKE FACT FILE

● Longest snake: the coastal taipan, reaching up to 3.3 metres in length. The mulga snake (or king brown) comes in second at a maximum of 3 metres.
● You can get bitten by a dead snake! Biting reflex remains many hours after death. (avru.org)
● Despite what you see on TV, there might not be two fang marks on a snake bite.

MOST DANGEROUS SNAKE IN AUSTRALIA

This is actually not such an easy question! As the Australian Venom Research Unit says, we have to ask these two questions before answering:
“Which one has the most poisonous venom?” and “Which one kills the most people?”
The most venomous Aussie snake is the western taipan; however, it doesn’t typically live close to communities and you’re very unlikely to ever see one. On the other hand, the species that has so far killed the most people is the brown snake family, which lives all over the country.
But if you want to narrow it down to a single species, it’s the coastal taipan. This one’s a real weapon – it strikes its victim several times and has great aim. *Gulp!*

AUSTRALIAN EMERGENCY NUMBER

000 (Police, Fire and Ambulance)

(Disclaimer: This article has been written for a non-medical publication and was compiled using material available from a number of sources online. It is not intended to be used as medical advice.)





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Prevent your Poison

Australia is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors. Imagine hiking with your friends, going to a nearby waterfall, enjoying a picnic. You and your friends are having a great time listening to the sounds of nature. Then suddenly, you hear someone scream. You run over and see that one of your friends has accidentally stepped on a snake. They are sitting on the ground, crying in pain. A snake bit them. What do you do?
Australia has many poisonous animals and insects, but very few people know how to treat a poisonous bite or sting. With a little knowledge you can be prepared. Always hike in groups of 4 or more. Make a lot of noise so the snake knows you are there and can move away. Never try to catch or touch a snake and don’t put your hands in places where there might be snakes, such as empty logs, behind bushes or under rocks.

If you do get a snake bite, you should act immediately, try to remain calm and keep the victim calm, assume the bite is poisonous and serious and wrap the wound tightly with a bandage, but not too tight. Do not wash the wound before treating it and finally, seek medical attention immediately.

 

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