Snake bite incidents are already occurring this season, and St John Ambulance (Qld) is recommending all parents familiarise themselves with the correct first aid treatment for treating snake bites.

Australia is home to 20 of the world’s most deadly 25 species of snakes. This staggering statistic means that you, your family, a neighbour or pet could encounter one of the world’s most poisonous snakes when you go on a bushwalk or even in your backyard.

St John Ambulance Queensland Regional Manager Leo McNamara said there were many myths involving first aid treatment for snake bites, and it was important for Queenslanders to know fact from fiction, and always follow the DRSABCD action plan (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR, and Defibrillation).

1.     Do NOT wash the area of the bite.
2.     Do NOT incise or cut the bite.
3.     Apply a pressure bandage with immobilisation, then splint the bandaged limb.

Use the “pressure-immobilisation” technique recommended by the Australian Resuscitation Council – see their guidelines, or the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.

The lymphatic system is responsible for the systemic spread of most venoms. This can be reduced by the application of a firm bandage (as firm as you would put on a sprained ankle) over a folded pad placed over the bitten area. Mark the site of the bite on the bandage and write down as much information as you can, such as the time of the bite, a description of the snake and when the bandage was applied. Immobility is best attained by application of a splint or sling, using a bandage or whatever to hand to absolutely minimise all limb movement, reassurance and immobilisation.

4.     Where possible, bring transportation to the patient. Don’t allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Walking should be prevented. Ensure the casualty is relaxed as much as possible; reassure them that everything will be ok – this will slow down the time it takes for the venom to go through the body.

Leo said common symptoms of a snake bite victim included a headache, nausea, drooping eyelids, drowsiness and problems speaking.

“Always call triple zero ‘000’ for an ambulance,” Leo said.

Snake bite – the Australian statistics

  • Approximately 3,000 cases of snake bite each year
  • Approximately 500 require treatment with anti-venom and hospitalisation
    2-3 deaths per year
  • Over the last 25 years the death rate has dramatically decreased due to improved first aid treatment, improved identification and treatment with anti-venom.
  • About half the deaths are due to bites from the brown snake; the rest mostly from tiger snake, taipan and death adder. While some deaths occur soon after the bite, it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite.

Signs and symptoms of snakebite
Signs of snakebite are not always visible and symptoms may only start to appear an hour or more after the person has been bitten.

Symptoms that can develop in the first hour or more
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
Double or blurred vision
Drooping eyelids
Bleeding from the bite site
Breathing difficulties
Drowsiness, giddiness or fainting
Problems speaking or swallowing voice change
Pain or tightness in the chest throat or abdomen
Respiratory weakness or arrest
Dark urine

Symptoms that can develop up to 3 hours after the bite
Limb paralysis
Decrease in the level of consciousness

Snake bite management
DRSABCD (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR and Defibrillation)
Rest and reassure the casualty
Pressure immobilisation bandage
Seek medical aid urgently

Do not
Wash venom off skin
Cut the bitten area
Try and suck venom out
Use tourniquet
Attempt to catch snake
Allow casualty to walk

These first aid tips are not a substitute for first aid training. St John Ambulance (Qld) offers a range of first aid courses including CPR, Provide First Aid, Resuscitation and Workplace First Aid throughout Queensland.

For more information visit www.stjohnqld.com.au or call 1300 ST JOHN (78 5646).

Do you have many snakes in your local area?

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  • I don’t think most of us realise how close we may be living to venomous creatures. It’s so important to know what to do in the case of an emergency.


  • Very good and timely advice. As our homes encroach more and more on our land the advent of snake bites will increase. Thanks for the warning.


  • Excellent article. There does seem to be quite a few out already.


  • this is a great and useful article. it is good to know. this sort of stuff SHOULD be taught in schools


  • This is not just a good article for Queenslanders, it’s necessary for all Australians. I lived in Queensland for 10 years and am now in Tassie. I only ever saw a venomous snake in QLD once (I may have seen a couple of baby browns too) despite many camping trips and bushwalks. Every snake in Tassie is venomous and I have already seen 2 since being here for 4 weeks. I saw quite a few over the years living in NSW too.


  • I am starting to read stories in our local newspapers and see them on the nightly news and it is frightening. We had a brown snake in our backyard 5 years ago. OMG. The shock and horror to be confronted by a snake for the first time in 42 years – one of my major fears. I was surprisingly calm but able to get indoors. By the time the Snake Catcher came it had moved on and was never found again. I would have gladly paid the additional money to know it was caught. We now have a dog and I worry most days that a snake may again decide to slither through our back yard.

    • I have had many encounters with snakes and it really does increase the heart rate.


  • Oh gosh this is very concerning, thank you so much for the information.


  • I am extremely snake aware and have seen the first of the season. I have also done first aid training – so important to do when you have children.


  • Very important info indeed !


  • This is vital information. Actually, I think doing a first aid course should be a must for most Australians.

    • I agree completely. It could help saving one life!!


  • Thanks for the advice in the article. Very useful at this time of year.


  • thank you for this timely article, – I have just been teaching my girls what to do if we come across a snake on our walks around some nearby duck ponds – I will make sure I always take my phone on our walks now as sometimes I don’t.

    I am going to save this on my phone somehow so I have it as a handy check list – thank you


  • Two summers back we had a brown snake on our sml medium strip in the middle of the road …it was lashing out trying to attack the car tyres as they passed. True, browns are a very aggressive snake when they want to be.


  • I think it is important to refresh the correct steps and management of a snake bite every season. There is a bandage on the market that is specifically designed for snake bites, displays squares when the correct tension is reached. But as always, research and ask questions.


  • You can NEVER get complacent about snakes. They caught a huge tiger snake in the centre of the very busy little town I live in last autumn.


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