TREATMENT OF SNAKE BITE First Aid
First aid for snakebite is controversial. Many techniques are promoted or used
around the world. Most have in common a complete lack of objective evidence
of efficacy and often are associated with significant adverse side effects,
varying from delay in obtaining appropriate care to directly related death.
They therefore violate the principles of first aid
for envenoming and cannot be recommended.
The only universally approved first aid for snakebite, applicable globally,
is immobilisation of the bitten area/limb and keeping the victim still. For
bites by non-necrotic species, including many Elapids (but not most cobras)
and a few Viperids, the Australian-developed pressure
immobilisation method is both safe and effective. The latter is based on
retarding venom transport in the lymphatics, by applying moderate local and
limb pressure sufficient to occlude superficial lymphatics and inhibition of
the muscle-pump transport system by immobilising the limb in a splint. Applied
correctly, it may be safely left on for several hours and experimentally is
as effective as a tourniquet at preventing venom movement, but far safer. This
technique has not been subjected to clinical trials, though extensive anecdotal
evidence from Australia suggests it is safe and effective when used correctly.
A modification of the technique has been trialled for viper bites in Myanmar
and initial results suggest promise, with no increase in local tissue injury.
If these studies continue to be successful and are extended to other necrotic
bites, without evidence of increased necrosis, then the pressure immobilisation
method may become the universally accepted first aid for all snakebites. That
it is not presently accepted universally reflects concerns that immobilising
necrotic venom locally may worsen the extent of necrosis and thus be counterproductive
in treating the victim.
In general, the bite wound should be gently cleaned, except where bite site
venom detection is available, as in Australia and New Guinea. Clear fluids may
be given by mouth, but not food and certainly not alcohol.
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