0001 – Snakebite in Midrand, is it serious?

  • Post published:2022-07-27

Article published in the Midrand Reporter many years back for awareness on venomous snakes and their snakebite. This was published approx. late 90’s.

Midrand residents have little to fear regarding snakes or snakebite compared to other regions of Gauteng. The 2 venomous species in Midrand that are of medical concern are the Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) and the Common Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus).

Rinkhals in defensive posture

The Rinkhals is the one of the most common species, but it is not as dangerous as it is made out to be. Don’t be mistaken by my comment, it is still classified as dangerous!! The species acts in a similar way to a cobra, but it is not classified as a true cobra as they have keeled scales, live bearing and skeletal differences. The venom is predominantly Neurotoxic, which affects the nervous system, making it difficult to breathe or move. Cytotoxic symptoms have been recorded, but it is rare. The main thing to be careful of is the spitting. They can spit a distance of approximately twice their body length. Despite beliefs it is not aiming at your eyes, but spraying venom in the direction of movement. If venom gets into your eyes it must be washed out copiously with a bland liquid like milk or water. It is advised to seek medical assistance to ensure there is no damage to the eyes. If you get venom on to the forehead, careful with sweating, this can cause the venom to run down into the eyes.

The Night Adder is an old world adder that has a Cytotoxic venom. This venom causes necrosis or “rotting” of the flesh. The venom causes immediate pain and rapid swelling in the bite area, extending up the limb over time. Fortunately, it is a shy and seldom encountered species with relatively weak venom. Medical advise should be sought after a bite regardless. Two dangerous Cytotoxic species that a responsible for a lot of the countries bites are the Puff Adder (Bitis arietans arietans) and Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambicus) which occur within 30-50km of Midrand.

The initial treatment of Cytotoxic & Neurotoxic is the same.

  1. Don’t try catch the snake! Keep calm.
  2. Remove any jewellery or tight clothing.
  3. Keep calm!
  4. Don’t suck out the venom, but if it will calm the victim, do it, but spit out the blood. It will have NO benefit to the patient.

Neurotoxic Treatment

  1. Apply a crepe bandage. Start at the bite sight and extend up the entire limb. It must be at the same tightness as for a sprain.
  2. Splint the limb if possible to reduce any movement.
  3. Move the patient slowly to keep heart rate low. Keep calm!
  4. If the bandages become too tight, loosen them slowly. NEVER just undo it as “venom rush” can result in rapid collapse or death.
  5. Transport promptly to hospital.

Cytotoxic Treatment

  1. One can apply a bandage, but you land up loosening it often, with the rapid rate of swelling. It is actually recommended not to do this.
  2. Transport patient to hospital, marking off the rate of swelling every 5 minutes. This gives doctors an idea to the amount of venom injected and the severity of the bite.

The reason for a bandage to be used in preference to a tourniquet for Neurotoxic species is to allow limited blood flow to the limb. This reduces the chance of gangrene or venom rush and slows the progress of the venom to vital organs. For cytotoxic bites, the continual flow of blood helps “dilute” the venom concentration and reduces the chance of severe necrosis. This is the reason why a bandage is not recommended.

These steps are for initial first-aid treatment for a typical reaction to a bite. A number of aspects greatly affect the way a person will react to snakebite, and even with professional medical assistance, people still die from snakebite. A person doesn’t know if you have an allergic reaction until it happens, err on the side of precaution.