Snake bite

snake bite

Snake bites most commonly happen to agricultural workers and children. Australia has some of the world’s deadliest snakes and they mainly live in rural and remote areas. During spring and summer snakes can be out and about on farms looking for water or mice.

Different snake venom affects the body differently and you should seek medical assistance urgently after a snake bite. Symptoms of snake bite may include pain, local effects including – swelling or bruising around the bite, or more 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. Research indicates very little venom reaches the circulation if both pressure over the site and the limb is immobilised. Keeping in mind, a factor that may influence this result is the volume of venom injected by the snake. 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, eg tear up a shirt, towel or sheet.

It is preferred to Start bandaging directly over the bitten area, ensuing that the pressure over the bite is firm and even. If you have enough bandage you can extend towards more central parts of the body, to delay spread of any venom that has already started to move centrally.

  • Put a splint around the limb to immobilise the limb
  • 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.
  • Do not walk! Keep still and remain calm and try not to panic. Movement and panicing will cause the venom to be circulated
  • If the bite is to the trunk or torso still apply a firm bandage.
  • If the bite can not be bandaged then apply and keep constant firm pressure
  • Seek medical assistance immediately.
  • If the person collapses or stops breathing, you will need to 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

Clinical care:

NSW Government Health
Snake bite and spider bite clinical management guideline 2013 3rd Edition

Australian Resuscitation Council
Australian snake bite – guideline 9.4.1

Australian Resuscitation Council
Envenomation – pressure immobilisation technique guideline 9.4.8

Australian Venom Research Compendium
Snake bite – current treatments

St John Ambulance NSW
Managing a snake bite [PDF 202kb]

Research & reviews:

Medical Journal of Australia
Snakebite in tropical Australia

World Health Organization (WHO)
Snake antivenoms

Fast facts:

Snake bite

  • 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.
  • Bandage and splint the limb. Try to keep the person as still as possible while you get help.
  • Do not raise the limb.

Last update: 18th January, 2019