Snake Bite: What you need to know

Snake bite first aid.

Our bikes take us into some wild areas. For some, the wilder and more remote, the better. This however means that there are a few dangers.

Aside from things such as dehydration and debilitating crash injuries – we need to be aware of and equipped with some basic knowledge on what to do in the event of a snake bite. Now snakes are obviously far more of a concern to those on foot, such as hikers and trail runners but in areas of high snake population density such as the Western Cape, certain parts of KZN and the Lowveld, snakes are a constant on the trails.

snake bite first aid
Credit: Gary Yost

What to do if bitten

Nine out of ten snakebite victims do not require antivenom and do not receive it,” explains Johan Marais of the African Snake Bite Institute. According to Marais, the reason for this is because bites usually occur from non-deadly snakes or, in the case of potentially deadly snakes, there is only mild or no envenomation at all. “Deadly snakes often give dry bites,” he says. “Doctors will monitor patients and only if symptoms justify it will they administer antivenom.” According to Marais, the first (and most obvious) thing to do if bitten on the trail is to get the patient to a hospital as soon as possible. “Getting to the nearest hospital is by far the most important,” he says. “Deaths from snakebite in less than an hour are rare. If it is a Cape Cobra or Black Mamba bite apply a smart bandage if available and resort to artificial respiration if the patient stops breathing.”

Perhaps more important is, what NOT to do?

According to Marais, one should never use an arterial tourniquet, attempt to cut-and-suck the bite wound or apply ice or heat. “Those are a waste of time and may do more damage than good,” he says. While on the bike we are usually safe but if you encounter a snake. “Immediately back off five paces – then you are safe and cannot be bitten,” says Marais. For more info on the potentially dangerous snakes in your area, download the African Snake Bite Institute’s App, from the App Store or Google Play. For more useful resources on this subject see More facts on the Black Mamba, Puff adder and Cape Cobra.

| WORDS: Jazz Kuschke |