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Out of a total of around 3000 species of snakes worldwide, around 500 are actually poisonous snakes (white snakes, poisonous snakes, sea snakes, vipers and pit vipers). However, many of the snakes, widely regarded as non-toxic, also have potent toxins in their saliva, but do not have specialized teeth to use these toxins in concentrated form.

Bites by dangerous snake species can cause life-threatening blood clotting disorders, paralysis, shock-like conditions or cardiac arrhythmias. The sea snakes that live in the sea have toxins that, in addition to their effects on the nervous system, can also damage the muscles.

Often snake venom also causes extensive swelling of the affected limb. These swellings prevent the bite region from being supplied with blood, so that severe tissue damage can occur (so-called necrosis), which can leave permanent damage and, in extreme cases, lead to the loss of the limb.


Preventive measures against snakebites

  • When you meet a snake: stay calm and stand still or step back slowly. Make yourself noticeable by vibrating the ground (stamping) and give you the opportunity to escape. Snakes don't attack people unless they feel pressured. If you see a snake, you can avoid it.
  • Take the threatening behavior of snakes seriously (hissing, rattling, straightening of cobras) and avoid them.
  • Stand firm when walking off-road. Snakes cannot hear acoustically, but they absorb floor vibrations through steps and the like true. Most snakes flee from humans when they have the opportunity.
  • Look where you step. Where there are open areas (street, footpath, path), these should be used for walking.
  • Look where you are reaching. Pre-probe with a long stick at blind spots.
  • Always walk with light at night (flashlight)! Snakes are nocturnal in warm countries - also in human settlements (e.g. in hotel complexes). Think of returning late when leaving during the day!
  • Cross-country and at night wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes (possibly also high shoes or boots) and long trousers. They offer very good protection against snakebites. This also applies in warm tropical regions.
  • Do not irritate or trap snakes.
  • Don't touch snakes. Not even if they are supposed to be dead. Snakes can still bite hours after death due to muscle reflexes.
  • Distance when observing, filming or taking photos. Keep a distance of at least twice to three times the body length of the animal!
  • Keeping snakes out of the living area: do not leave any rubbish or leftover food lying around. These attract rodents, prey for snakes. Eliminate hiding places around the house and cut grass short.
  • Mosquito nets protect against snakes and other poisonous animals in bed. The nets must also be wrapped under the mattress for optimal mosquito protection.
  • In warm countries, do not sleep directly on the floor - especially not outdoors.
  • Be careful when lifting objects, stones or wood! Lift this so that you are protected by the object as a shield and an escape route away from people is always open to any snake underneath.
  • Instruct children about venomous snakes and supervise young children.


First aid for snake bites

A snakebite is always a potentially serious accident that requires a medical assessment as soon as possible. With every snake bite this means: seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Many venomous snake bites are mild because the snakes often release little or no venom when defending themselves (30 - 70% of the bites depending on the snake). After a bite, however, one should behave as if a poison had taken place.

General first aid measures
1. Keep calm and calm the patient down.

2. Position the patient in the shade and always immobilize the bitten limb (as in the case of a broken bone)

3. Organize transport and gently transport the patient to medical treatment as quickly as possible. Avoid any physical exertion on the person concerned.

4. If unconscious: transport in shock position.

5. If breathing has stopped: artificial respiration. Continue even on long transports. In the case of neurotoxins with respiratory arrest, patients can be rescued by artificial respiration until the administration of antivenin (see below).

Compression bandage yes or no?
A compression bandage put on immediately (tightly binding the affected limb with an elastic bandage) can significantly slow down the rapid spread of the poison throughout the body by congesting the venous blood flow (blood flow from the outer areas of the body to the heart) and the lymph flow under the skin, which is particularly important can be life-saving in the case of neurotoxins and strong blood poisons and long transport routes. On the other hand, the stasis traps the poison in the affected limb and promotes severe swelling, which can mean loss of the limb. Due to the geographical distribution of different types of snakes and the effects of their toxins, there are regionally different recommendations for the use of a compression bandage.

Australia, Oceania and sea snakes:
Compression bandages generally recommended. Tie the affected limb firmly with an elastic bandage. Important: The pulse in the limb must remain palpable. The limbs may turn blue, but in no case white.

South America
Compression bandage (for use, see above) is only recommended for extremely long transport routes and for rattlesnakes and coral snakes (small, thin, very colorfully curled snakes) (nerve toxins).

For bites from large, thick and short snakes that hiss loudly (vipers): Consider compression bandages extremely cautiously - only use for extremely long transport routes. High risk of limb loss (swelling and tissue toxins).

For long, nimble and agile snakes (cobras and mambas): rapid application of the compression bandage recommended (nerve toxins).

If a spitting cobra spikes poison in the eyes: Wash the eyes immediately and for a long time with plenty of water.

Consider compression bandages in general, but only for long transport routes (cobras and kraits: nerve poisons. Chain viper and sand rattle otter: very dangerous blood poisons). With monocle cobras and lance vipers, however, there is a high risk of tissue damage (locally active tissue toxins).

In accidents with spitting cobras, as in Africa, wash eyes with plenty of water for a long time.


Harmful measures

All other measures that are repeatedly recommended are to be omitted. In particular:

  • No cutting or sucking out (only a small amount of poison can be removed in the field and with poisons that inhibit blood clotting, there is a risk of life-threatening blood loss).
  • No use of cooling or refrigerants.
  • No electric shocks.
  • No alcohol (can promote the poisonous effect).
  • No application of heat. Burning out can promote tissue damage and does not affect the toxicity.
  • Do not seek out a traditional snake healer. There are ancient traditions of snake healers in Asia and Africa. In these areas, villagers usually bring snakebite patients to the local healer. To date, however, there are no known alternative methods against snake venom that are really effective (the WHO would have long since recommended and promoted them if they existed). With a visit to the healer, the affected person receives short-term psychological support, but a lot of valuable time is often lost on the way to the hospital. The "healing success" of the local healers is based on the fact that many snakes inject little or no venom in defense. Many of the methods used by healers are dangerous (spraying or spitting on the poison site with liquids: risk of infection!), Incisions and tattoos (hepatitis and HIV transmission), herbal remedies (unknown effects, in some cases promote the toxic effect).


Antivenin (snake serum)

The vast majority of antivenins (snake sera) are made from blood serum from horses that have previously been immunized against the toxins of snakes. When bitten by a snake, the correct antivenin must be used against this species. When antivenom is administered to a patient, the antibodies in the horse serum render the snake venom ineffective in the blood (neutralization). All of these antivenins have the disadvantage that they can cause rejection and allergy reactions in humans (exogenous proteins). They should therefore only be administered by healthcare professionals who, based on the description of the snake and the symptoms, can select the correct antivenin and use it correctly (intravenous infusion) and control complications. If you have antivenin yourself, you should take it to the hospital, but only use it yourself in an extreme emergency (life-threatening condition of the person concerned, long transport route ahead of you). Antivenins mainly act on symptoms that affect the entire organism and have only limited effectiveness at the bite site itself.

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