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VENOMOUS BITES AND STINGS                                         VENOMOUS BITES AND STINGS                                       VENOMOUS BITES AND STINGS
VENOMOUS BITES AND STINGS

   

Venomous bites and stings are injected poisons. Many of Australia’s creatures are particularly poisonous, with eleven of the world’s twelve most venomous snakes residing here. As for general poisoning, prevention is better than cure, so take care when in an area frequented by snakes and spiders, and treat venomous sea creatures with respect.

This section will cover the following bites and stings:

Snakes

Australia’s venomous snakes are regarded as dangerous because of the frequency with which they come in contact with humans. Generally, the snakes with the most feared reputation is the variety of Brown Snakes. These snakes, Tiger Snakes, and the Taipan are responsible for most of the fatal encounters with humans. Black Snakes and Death Adders are also dangerous and are known to have caused deaths. Anti-venom is generally available for all species.

In most cases, the snake strikes swiftly and injects venom below the surface of the skin into the tissues, which is then absorbed by the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of tubes that drains fluid (lymph) from the body’s tissues and empties it back into the bloodstream. Only rarely does the venom penetrate directly into the blood stream. As the venom is contained within the lymphatic system, the ‘John Wayne Method’ of slashing the wound and sucking vigorously, is of no value, and should not be used under any circumstances.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should you see a snake, LEAVE IT ALONE - do not attempt to kill it as all snakes are protected by law, and besides, the creature will defend itself vigorously. Stay clear of likely habitats, and always pay special attention to young children playing near long grass and bush. Only approximately 15% of people struck by poisonous snakes are envenomated, but always treat for the worst case, and assume that venom has been injected.    

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • puncture marks, or parallel scratches on the skin - rarely any pain
  • anxiety
  • pale, cool skin with progressive onset of sweating
  • rapid, weak pulse
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • breathing difficulties
  • blurred vision, drooping eyelids
  • difficulty swallowing and speaking
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • headache
  • collapse - progressing to a comatose state
     
   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • complete rest
  • call '115' for an ambulance urgently
  • apply direct pressure over the bitten area
  • obtain a history
  • apply a firm bandage (pressure immobilisation bandage) starting from over the bite site, and then wind as far up the limb as possible to the armpit or groin
  • immobilise the limb with a splint

send any evidence of the snake to the hospital only if safe to do so.

 

 
  • avoid washing the bitten area, as a venom sample may be obtained
  • avoid elevating the limb
  • DO NOT use an arterial tourniquet
  • DO NOT remove the bandage and splint once it has been applied
  • DO NOT try to capture the snake

The main treatment for a snake bite is the application of a ‘pressure immobilisation bandage’. This bandage is applied as firmly as bandaging a sprained ankle, and is designed to slow the movement of venom through the lymphatic system. Bandaging the wound firmly tends to compress the lymph vessels, which helps to slow or prevent the venom from leaving the bite site.

 

 

Spiders

FUNNEL WEB SPIDER
The Sydney Funnel Web spider is considered to be the most venomous spider in the world. It is found in the NSW coastal zone from Nelson’s Bay to Nowra. Its habitat is under rocks and houses, in a web-lined burrow. The spider is very aggressive and will attack at the slightest provocation.
Despite its fearsome reputation, there are only 14 recorded deaths due to funnel web spider bite. However, when the spider does inject a dangerous quantity of venom, the effects can be rapid and severe, and death within an hour may occur.

A second type of spider called the Bush (or Blue Mountains) Funnel Web is also recorded as being responsible for fatal bites. Its habitat ranges over most of the NSW coast and the Great Dividing Range. This creature lives in trees behind the bark, or in holes in the trunk. Other types of related spiders such as the Northern and Southern Tree Dwelling species, are suspected of similar venom potency, and are found mostly along the south eastern area of Australia.

There are at least 37 species of funnel web spiders. All are medium to large, robust spiders, mostly dark or black in colour, with stout legs and large fangs. Males search for female mates, a process which may increase the chance of unwanted interaction with people, as they may get underfoot, or into shoes or clothing left on or near the floor.

The funnel web will bite successively if in contact with the skin, and when bitten by the funnel web spider the venom enters the body similarly to that of snakes. Anti-venom is available.

 

 



SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • pain at the site of the bite
  • pale, cool skin
  • tingling or numbness around the mouth
  • rapid, weak pulse
  • rapid onset of breathing difficulties
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • profuse sweating
  • copious production of saliva and pulmonary fluids
  • mental confusion
  • collapse - coma - death

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

treat as for snakebite

 

   

RED-BACK SPIDER
This spider with the telltale red or orange mark on its thorax is the female of the species. It is common all over Australia, and its preferred habitat is under any old building material, or inside sheds and garages.

The spider’s bite is not generally regarded as fatal, although there are recorded deaths prior to the introduction of the anti-venom. Less than 20% of bites actually result in significant envenomation, but generally, the bite is very painful, and causes distress.

 

 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • intense pain at the site of the bite
  • may be localised redness, swelling and sweating
  • nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
  • rapid pulse
  • loss of co-ordination
  • tremors and muscle spasms
  • rapid, shallow breathing

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • obtain history
  • cold compress to relieve pain
  • observe casualty for any sign of deterioration

 

   
Other spiders
Other spiders that have been associated with venomous bites are the White-Tailed Spider, Trapdoor Spider and Wolf Spider. The bite of these spiders causes tissue necrosis, the death of the tissue around the bitten area. A doctor should treat bites from these spiders and assess the bitten area over a period to observe for any detrimental effects.

 

   

Ticks

Only the Australian paralysis tick or ‘scrub tick’ causes envenomation in humans. Ticks are capable of spreading diseases eg. Scrub Typhus. Ticks can be found anywhere on the body, but hairy areas, skin clefts and crevices should be examined carefully.

 

   

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • local irritation
  • lethargy
  • muscle weakness, especially in children
  • unsteady gait
  • double vision
  • difficulty in swallowing or breathing
  • rarely allergic reactions occur:
    - rapid local swelling
    - wheezing and difficulty breathing
    - collapse

Symptoms and signs generally develop over several days but allergic symptoms can occur within hours.

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • if the victim has a history or signs of allergy:
  • use pressure immobilisation if possible
  • seek medical advice immediately
  • slide the open blades of sharp pointed tweezers on each side of the tick and lever it upwards
  • always check the whole body of the victim, including the ears, skin creases and hair for further ticks

after removal of a tick the victim should be advised to see a doctor to check that no further treatment is required.

 

   
avoid squeezing the tick because even slight pressure may inject more venom

 

 

Bee and ant stings

Bee and ant stings for most people are only a temporary irritation. For others however, these stings have the potential to cause death. The venom associated with bee stings causes a severe allergic reaction in susceptible people, and can cause respiratory and cardiac arrest. In most cases ant stings, while painful, rarely cause serious problems.

 

 



SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • evidence of bee sting with the barb present
  • pain and itching at the site
  • swelling of the stung area

in allergic casualties:
- onset of wheezing and breathing difficulties
- facial swelling and hives
- rapid pulse
- collapse

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • remove bee sting by scraping with fingernail or similar
  • cold compress to reduce swelling and pain
  • if onset of allergic reaction:
  • pressure immobilisation bandage
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance

 

   
avoid squeezing or touching the barb  

 

Fire Ant Stings
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Fire ants inflict a fiery sting, which causes a small blister to form at the site of each sting after several hours. The blisters become itchy while healing and are prone to infection if broken
  • pain, burning and itching at the site
  • swelling of the stung area

in allergic casualties:
- onset of wheezing and breathing difficulties
- facial swelling and hives
- rapid pulse
- collapse

 

 

 


 



CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • cold compress to reduce swelling and pain
  • gently wash the affected area with soap and water
  • leave the blisters intact
  • if onset of allergic reaction:
  • pressure immobilisation bandage
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance

 

   

European wasp

This introduced insect has been identified with some deaths. The European Wasp is coloured yellow and black, with stripes similar to those of a bee. The yellow stripes are brighter in colour than those on a bee, and the insect is slightly larger.

The insect is attracted to aromatic or sweet-tasting things, and will enter food containers such as open soft-drink cans. The creature will then sting when inadvertently handled, and can sting multiple times. Similar to bees, the wasps become aggressive when their nest is disturbed.

 

 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • severe pain at the affected site
  • immediate swelling, especially if the throat has been stung
  • breathing difficulties

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance or see own doctor
  • cold compress to reduce swelling and pain
  • if onset of allergic reaction;
  • pressure immobilisation bandage over affected limb(s)
  • call ambulance urgently
  • EAR if respiratory arrest
     
   

Scorpions

In Australia there are over 100 species of scorpion and they can be found in a wide variety of habitats all over the country. Australian scorpions can give a painful sting but are not considered dangerous.

 

 


SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • pain and itching at the site
  • swelling of the stung area

in allergic casualties;
- onset of wheezing and breathing difficulties
- facial swelling and hives
- rapid pulse
- collapse

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • cold compress to reduce swelling and pain
  • if onset of allergic reaction;
  • pressure immobilisation bandage
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance 

 

 

   

Sea creatures

Many sea creatures are venomous, and the best way to avoid envenomation is to give the creatures a wide berth. As an example, don’t pick up or handle creatures washed up on the beach or in rock pools, and don’t swim where Box Jellyfish or Portuguese Man-of-War are prevalent.

Box Jellyfish
The Box Jellyfish, also known as ‘Stingers’, are prevalent in the north of Australia during the season from November to March. These creatures are deadly, and are responsible for many fatal encounters.

Warning signs at popular beaches should be complied with, and extreme care taken at unpatrolled locations.

 

   

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • immediate severe pain, with irrational behaviour because of the pain
  • rapid, irregular pulse
  • frosted pattern of sting marks
  • collapse
  • respiratory arrest
  • cardiac arrest

 

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • restrain anyone from rubbing the sting
  • apply liberal quantities of VINEGAR for a minimum of 30 seconds
  • dry cold compress to relieve pain
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance and call lifesavers urgently
  • EAR and/or CPR as required

 

 

   
‘Irukandji syndrome’
Irukandji syndrome is caused by Irukandji jellyfish such as the Carukia barnesi, and are small, transparent jellyfish about 25 mm across the body or ‘bell’ with a single tentacle from each corner of its box-shaped body. Irukandji jellyfish are found along coastal beaches as well as offshore and appear to be restricted to waters between the Tropic of Capricorn and the northern tip of Torres Strait. They are mainly prevalent between November and May each year.
   

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • minor pain initially, the pain increases over time (5-60 minutes) to severe
  • shooting pains in chest and abdomen muscles
  • lower back pain
  • restlessness and anxiety
  • collapse
  • coma

 

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • restrain anyone from rubbing the stung area
  • gently apply a vinegar soaked pad to the stung area for a minimum of 30 seconds
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance

 

 

   
Stonefish
The Stonefish is virtually invisible amongst rocks. The creature has venomous spines on its back that it erects when threatened or stepped on. This fish lives in the tropical regions, and as far south as Forster/Tuncurry in NSW.
   

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • severe pain at the site of envenomation
  • swelling
  • open wound and/or bleeding
  • irrational behaviour
  • rapid pulse
  • breathing difficulties
  • collapse - coma

     

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • call ‘115’ for an ambulance
  • HOT water immersion of the site to relieve pain - ensure that the water will not scald the casualty
  • EAR and/or CPR as required

 

 

   

BLUE-RINGED OCTOPUS AND CONE SHELL
The Blue-Ringed Octopus is an attractive little creature that lives in rock pools on the shores of Australia. When threatened, the creature ‘pulses’ luminous bright blue rings on its body. Its bite is painless, and will only occur if the creature is handled.

The Cone Shell is a variegated shell, usually brown and white, which is common on tropical beaches. The shell contains a dagger-like spine, which can inject toxin into any unwary person who handles the creature.

 

 


SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • a spot of blood
  • numb feeling of the face and tongue
  • progressive weakness in the legs and body
  • eventual collapse
  • respiratory arrest

 

 

 

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • pressure immobilisation bandage
  • call ambulance urgently
  • EAR as required

 

 

   
PORTUGUESE MAN-OF-WAR (‘BLUEBOTTLE’)
The Portuguese Man-of-War, or ‘Bluebottle’, found on most beaches in Australia, is really a colony of small creatures living as one. The creatures have small stinging cells, which when encountered as a group, impart a venomous sting. People who are susceptible to bee sting are usually sensitive to Bluebottle venom.
   

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • ‘trails’ of blue ‘tentacles’ adhering to the body or limbs
  • stinging sensation associated with the contact
  • reddening of the skin
  • pain for some hours
  • may cause severe allergic reaction (rare)

 

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • remove the ‘tentacles’ with a copious amount of sea water
  • dry cold compress to relieve pain
  • call ambulance or own doctor
  • if severe allergic reaction:

call '115' for an ambulance

 

   
Sea snakes
Sea snakes may grow to be several metres in length, and are found mainly in warmer waters. They appear similar to land snakes, but have flatter tails.
 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • relatively painless
  • drowniness
  • weakness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • breathing difficulties
  • visual disturbances

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

as for snakebite

 

   

FISH STINGS

Many fish, such as the flathead and the stingray, have poisonous spines that can inject venom deep in to the unwary victim, causing excruciating pain. Handle all fish with care, avoiding the spinous areas along the backbone and around the gills. Constant handling of fish may cause skin irritation due to the fluids and secretions of the fish oils.

 

 

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • intense pain at the site
  • swelling
  • bleeding
  • often a grey/bluish discolouration at the site
  • there may be an open wound or barb in the skin
  • irrational behaviour or panic may occur

 

 

   

CARE AND TREATMENT

  • SRABC
  • reassure
  • HOT water immersion of the site to relieve pain or apply a hot compress
     ensure that the water will not scald the casualty
  • if heat does not alleviate the pain, try a cold compress for pain relief

call '115' for an ambulance or call own doctor

 

   
     

     

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