Snake bite

Snake bites in Australia most commonly happen in the warmer months of October to January and February to May, when snakes are more active. Australia has some of the world’s deadliest snakes. They mainly live in rural and remote areas and are found out and about on farms looking for water or food.

Snake bites often occur if a snake needs to be defensive. If bitten by a snake, it is important to recognise the type of snake as different types of snakes bite differently, release venom differently and have venom which will affect the body differently. Common site to be bitten are hands, arms, feet and ankles. Medical assistance is urgent after a snake bite.

Symptoms of snake bite may include:

  • pain
  • local effects – swelling or bruising around the bite
  • widespread effects – including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, slurred speech, muscle weakness and respiratory distress.

First aid for snake bite aims to stop the venom moving around the body. Depending on the volume of venom injected, research indicates very little venom reaches the circulation if both pressure over the site and the limb is immobilised. In many cases, if the snake is angry and stirred up, it may release more venom when it strikes.

What you should do:

  • DO NOT wash the bite or attempt to catch/kill the snake.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Apply pressure immobilisation
  • If a limb bandage the area of the bite firmly (as firmly as you would for a sprained ankle)
  • Crepe and compression bandages are ideal – but use anything available if no bandages are available, e.g tear up a shirt, towel or sheet.

Start bandaging directly over the bitten area, ensuing the pressure over the bite is firm and even. Extend bandaging towards central parts of the body to delay the spread of venom already moving centrally.

  • Place a splint around the limb for immobilisation.
  • Mark the bandaged area over the snake bite with a X. This will allow the doctor to quickly locate the bite without removing the bandage.
  • If the bite is to the trunk or torso still apply a firm bandage.
  • If the bite cannot be bandaged then apply and keep constant firm pressure.
  • DO NOT walk! Keep still and remain calm and try not to panic. Movement and panicking will cause the venom to circulate faster.
  • Activate your emergency plan to get help and medical assistance urgently
  • If thea snake bite victim collapses or stops breathing, apply CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until medical help arrives.

References used for this topic page

More information:

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Qld)
Snake bites

University of Sydney
Australian snake bites

Flying Doctors Service
Outback Survival: Snakes and Snakebites

Clinical care:

Safer Care Victoria
Management of snake bite

Research & reviews:

The Medical Journal of Australia
The Australian Snakebite Project, 2005–2015

World Health Organization (WHO)
Snake antivenoms

Fast facts:

Snake bite

  • Avoid being bitten by a snake.
  • If bitten – don’t panic and don’t try to catch the snake.
  • Follow basic first aid for snake bite, even if you’re not sure if the snake was venomous.
  • Don’t wash the skin, venom traces may help identify the snake.
  • Send for help by calling triple (000) immediately.
  • Remain still and calm until help arrives.
  • Do not raise the limb.

Last update: 6th May, 2020