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Snake bites require urgent medical attention

WHEN summer comes, many animals that have been in hibernation or rarely seen during the winter, come out. These include snakes. As a result, cases of snake bites are often high during summertime.

Researchers across the world say a bite from a venomous snake is rarely fatal but should always be treated as a medical emergency.  You should also take note that even a bite from a snake without venom can be serious as it may lead to an allergic reaction or an infection.

Venomous snake bites can produce various symptoms, which include pain and swelling, convulsions, nausea or in the worst cases even paralysis.

How to identify a snake bite

In Zimbabwe poisonous snakes belong to four families, namely colubrid (boomslang), vipers (puff adder), elapids (mambas and cobras) and Atractaspis (bibron stiletto snake). The puff adder is known to be responsible for most bites.

If you or someone you are with has been bitten by a snake, you will know immediately from the pain of the bite. However, it is also possible for the bite to happen quickly and for the snake to disappear quickly too, leaving you not knowing what has caused the pain.

To identify a snake bite, check for general symptoms such as two puncture wounds, swelling and redness around the wounds, pain at the bite site, difficulty breathing, vomiting and nausea, blurred vision, sweating, salivating as well as numbness in the face and limbs.

Some venomous snakes cause symptoms specific to their type. In addition, some symptoms only set in hours after the bite. They may include convulsions, drooping eyelids, stomach pain, difficulty swallowing and changes in skin colour.

Preventing snake bites

Snake bites can often be prevented. It is best to refrain from approaching or handling snakes in the wild or in your garden at home. Avoid typical places where snakes like to hide such as patches of tall grass and piled leaves, as well as rocks and woodpiles.

If you encounter a snake, give it space to retreat and let it take cover. It is in the snake’s nature to avoid interaction. However, some snakes such as the black mamba are known to attack even when not threatened. When working outside where snakes may be present, wear long boots, long trousers and leather gloves. Avoid working outside during the night, especially in warm summer weather, which is when snakes are most active.

If you see a snake in your garden, call the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or any other professional animal handler so that they can come and remove the snake from your premises. It may be a harmless brown house snake, but it is always better to have professionals handling the situation.

Emergency First Aid

If you are bitten by a snake, it is important that you obtain emergency medical treatment as quickly as possible. There are, however, some things you could do while you wait for medical assistance.

First, record the time of the bite. Try to keep calm and do not move, as movement can cause the venom to travel more quickly through the body.

Remove any constricting clothing or jewellery because the area surrounding the bite will most likely swell. If you are in the company of someone that has been bitten, do not allow him or her to walk. Carry or transport them by vehicle or even wheelbarrow, depending where you are and what you can use to transport them.

Do not kill or handle the snake. Take a picture of the snake if you can but do not waste time hunting it down as the bite could mean life or death. It is important to note that there are also several outdated First Aid techniques that are now believed to be unhelpful or even harmful. These include cutting into the snake bite, using a cold compress on the bite as well as giving the person any medications unless directed by a doctor.

It is also advised not to raise the area of the bite above the victim’s heart or attempt to suck the venom out by mouth. Do not use a pump suction device either.

These devices used to be recommended for pumping out snake venom but are now believed to more likely do harm than good.

Treatment for snake bites

The most important thing to do for a snake bite is to obtain emergency medical help as soon as possible. A doctor will evaluate the victim to decide on a specific course of treatment. In some cases, a bite from a venomous snake is not life-threatening.

The severity depends on the location of the bite and the age and health of the victim. If the bite is not serious, the doctor may simply clean the wound and give the victim an anti-tetanus injection.

If the situation is life threatening, the doctor may administer anti-venom. This is a substance created with snake venom to counter the snake bite symptoms.  It is injected into the victim. The sooner the anti-venom is used, the more effective it will be. The outlook for a person with a snake bite is variable. For a non-venomous snake bite, the outlook is excellent if the wound is cleaned and treated promptly.

When it comes to a venomous bite, the outlook is good if the victim receives emergency care soon after the bite has occurred. Healthy adults with shallow bites have a better outlook than children and those with weakened immune systems who have received deep bites.

The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — igo@cimas.co.zw or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.

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