Snakebite is considered an important health problem in rural areas of tropical regions, especially in Southeast Asia, India, Brazil and West Africa and sub-Saharan countries. It is estimated that snakes inflict 2.5 million venomous bites in each year, resulting in about 125,000 deaths.
Most people are under the misconception that all snakes are poisonous and all snakebites fatal. But, it is not the case. Snakes are both poisonous and non poisonous, and not all snakebites are deadly. However, snakebites should not be treated lightly.
In case of a bite from a poisonous snake, the symptoms will be visible almost immediately. Bleeding, difficulty in breathing, nausea, blurred vision, excessive salivation, shock, paralysis, slurred speech, weak pulse, change in skin color, etc. are a few signs to look out for. A bite from a harmless snake can be serious too, and lead to an allergic reaction, a considerable tissue damage or an infection.
Administering first aid, in case of snake bites, can be very crucial. While a venomous snake bite is best handled by a doctor, there are a few first aid measures that can help the victim immediately, and even play a big role in saving his life.
- Reassure the victim – Calm the victim by assuring that snake bites can be treated with the right kind of anti-venom. A calm patient will follow the instructions and also be able to express the problems that are troubling him.
- Restrict the victim’s movement – Movement means flow of blood and this needs to be restricted, especially in the area where the snake has bitten. Tie the area with a cloth or bandage about 2 -3 inches above the bite to restrict blood flow. If needed put a splint as it will reduce movement. Do not make the victim walk. Carry him in a vehicle.
- Loosen or remove clothes – The area where the snake has bitten will swell. Hence, it will be advisable to remove any clothing or jewelry so that the area does not get constricted. Take this action as quickly as possible before the swelling sets in.
- Observe the victim – Keep a close watch on the area of the bite. Any change in color or swelling indicates a bite by a poisonous snake.
- Call the hospital – Call up the emergency services and intimate them about the victim. If the snake has been correctly identified, the hospital can be told about it so they keep the correct anti-venom ready.
- Cover the wound – If possible, cover the victim’s wound with loose, sterile bandages. However, avoid administering ice, water or other topical medicines on the wound.
- Do not urge the victim to eat – Do not give caffeinated drinks or urge the person to eat, including medicines unless the doctor has advised so.
- No sucking blood – Do not try to cut a bite wound or suck out the venom from the bite by mouth. The reason being if there are any cuts in the mouth, the poison can spread to you as well. Even the use of pumps are not advised.
- Identify the snake – If you can identify the snake or note down its appearance, it will be helpful when you describe the snake to the doctor. However, do not waste precious time looking for it.
Remember, even when there are no immediate signs of distress raised by the victim, the victim should be taken to the hospital and put under observation. A snake bite is a medical emergency that is best handled by a qualified doctor. Therefore, rushing the victim to the hospital is most important.