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Hiking Tips - Snake Bites in South Africa

Only 10% of South African snakes are venomous, the younger snakes having a higher concentration of venom that the adult snakes. Can you identify the snake? Most people cannot.
Views: 9.039 Created 11/29/2006

Only 10% of South African snakes are venomous (I am not sure of the proportion in other countries), the younger snakes having a higher concentration of venom that the adult snakes.

Snakes have either teeth or fangs. Fangs can either be found in the back of the mouth or in the front, and can either inject the venom into your skin or squirt it into your eyes. Problems that you will face are:

Can you identify the snake? Most people cannot.

Is the snake venomous? This can only be known by the identity of the snake.

If the snake is venomous, what type of venom was injected into you? Once again, the identity of the snake will solve this one.

How long will you live for? That depends on how old the snake was, how much venom was actually injected and the concentration of the venom.


Cobras and Mambas inject Neurotoxic venom which will affect the nervous system and cause initial muscle weakness, blurred vision, difficulty in swallowing and breathing and eventually paralysis.

Adders inject Cytotoxic venom which will cause massive swelling and bruising to the area that was bitten, and could eventually burst the skin open.

Boomslange and Vine Snakes inject Haemotoxic venom which destroys the platelets in the blood and causes major internal bleeding in the lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen etc., and blood will also leak out of all orifices in your body, including minor wounds and bruises.

Berg Adders are highly dangerous as they inject both Neurotoxic and Cytotoxic venom into you.


What NOT to do:

Do not panic and run around as this will increase the blood circulation and transport the venom quicker around the body.

Do not make a tourniquet (this means to tie a cloth tightly around the arm or leg) as this will kill the arm or leg below it and it might have to be amputated later, as well as concentrate the venom (if it was a venomous bite) in the area and kill that body part off quicker.

Do not cut and try to suck out the venom as we see them do in cowboy movies, as the venom will still get absorbed into your blood stream through your gums and cheeks.

What TO do:

Do loosen the clothing, reassure the patient, and keep him calm and quiet.

Do dress the wound with a bandage and keep it cool (in the shade). This will stop your blood vessels dilating and decrease the blood flow in that area.

Do watch the patient carefully, if he loses consciousness, apply the ABC's (see below).

The ABC's (these three things are useful to remember in the majority of first aid situations):

A = Airways, tilt his neck backwards to get the tongue away from the back of his throat and stop him from choking on it. Do not put a blanket or anything under his head.

B = Breathing, look, listen and feel to check if he is still breathing. If he has stopped breathing, give him one breath every five seconds.

C = Circulation, check his pulse in his neck, on either side of his windpipe, or listen for a heartbeat by putting your ear next to his chest.

Once the situation has been assessed, then get help as quickly as possible. He would need to get to hospital soon. In hospital, if the snake is unknown, they would treat the patient symptomatically, that is, they would put him on a breathing machine if he stops breathing, give antibiotics if he shows signs of infection, etc.

Most people that get brought to hospital for snake bites, don't know much about the snake, so the practice of giving the patient an anti-venom is only done is certain cases.

(Besides, anti-venom is only housed in Cape Town and Pretoria, so anyone hiking in the Drakensberg - South Africa - and that gets bitten by a snake, will probably get brought to a Durban hospital, hence the symptomatic treatment which is given - this applies to South Africa).

Short note about the author

Gerald Crawford was born in South Africa, studied electronics, telecommunication, eco-travel and african travel concepts. He taught responsible tourism in South Africa. If you have any questions or comments please e-mail me on. E-mail Address: [email protected] Website Address: http://www.12234455.co.za.

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