8 things to do (and to avoid) after a snakebite


Bites and stings – Part 2

Kofo and his friend, Henry, were on their way to Kafanchan. The bus was packed full of human beings in a sardine-like arrangement but the duo had no choice. Henry had stumbled on a job advert that said to apply in person, and since they were desperate for jobs, off they went. They were forty-five minutes from the food stop when Kofo’s tummy began to sing: the digestive products from the beans porridge concoction he ate last night were begging to be set free. He tried hard to hold it in but a silent, potent fart escaped. The passengers squirmed from the stench and a baby began to cry.

“Driver, abeg I wan go toilet,” he cried out when he felt another fart coming along.

We go soon reach where we go stop,” came the reply.

Two deadly farts later, and still thirty minutes away from the food stop, the driver pulled over. Kofo ran into the forest to do the deed. On his way back, he felt a sharp pain on his leg and looked down just in time to see a long brown snake slither away.

Brown snake slithering away after a snakebite

“Help! Snake don bite me o…” Kofo cried as he hobbled back to the bus.

Henry froze for a second. His neighbour’s child got stung by a scorpion last week and today, his friend got bitten by a snake. He quickly regained himself and helped his friend to the bus while some passengers gathered around. Someone suggested to Henry that he should cut or pierce the wound and allow it to bleed but he was hesitant. Everyone was talking but nobody was sure of what to do, so Henry did what he knew. He removed his shirt and tied it very tightly above the snakebite. Then, the driver graciously rushed them to the closest health center which was twenty minutes behind.

As soon as they got there, the health workers got to work, examining Kofo, asking questions, and beginning treatment.

When Kofo was settled, the doctor posed a question to them. “Do you know that tying a leg or arm after a snakebite can be very dangerous?

“Huh?!” Henry remarked, wondering if this doctor knew what she was saying. “Are you suggesting that it is wrong to tie somebody’s hand or leg after a snakebite?”

“Yes. Absolutely!”

“Hmmm! That is what we’ve always known o,” Henry said, still doubtful.

“I know right? Tying the affected part (applying a tourniquet) used to be advised before but it has been shown to make things worse. After thirty to forty minutes of tight tying, the part of the body tied can die and may need to be cut off. Thank God you got here early enough or else that’s what we may have been talking about now.”

Kofo imagined himself without one leg and shuddered. How would he even get a job with one leg? Oloun maje o.

“What then should someone do after a snakebite?” Henry asked.

“The truth is, not all snakebites are venomous (poisonous) but since we can’t always tell, we have to assume that any snakebite is venomous until proven otherwise. Therefore, here’s what to do when a person is bitten by a snake.

  1. While facing the snake, slowly move yourself (or the person bitten) away from the snake while noting its features e.g colour and head shape. Don’t waste time doing this though.
  2. As soon as you’re in a safe place, stop all movement, then splint the affected part. [Note: To splint a limb, place any rigid material (e.g pieces of wood or sticks) beneath the bitten part in such a way that it gets to the joint directly above and below the bitten part. Then wrap it firmly (but not tightly) with a stretchy (elastic) material to completely immobilize the joints.]
  3. Call for help.
  4. If you have a clean piece of cloth to cover the wound then do so.
  5. If possible, keep the bitten part slightly below the level of your heart.
  6. Remove any clothing items or jewellery that can become tight if there is swelling.
  7. Stay calm!
  8. If another person is around, the bitten person should be carried, not made to walk, and then transported to the nearest health center.
A person should be carried after a snakebite to minimize spread of venom

“Wow. This is new.” Henry remarked.

“Which reminds me,” the doctor continued. “People used to think that snake venom goes straight into the blood after a bite, and that tying will prevent the venom from flowing to the rest of the body. But guess what? That’s not correct. . After a snakebite, venom first gets into a part of the body called the lymphatic system. The beautiful thing about this is that if a person doesn’t move, and his heart rate doesn’t go up, the venom will not be absorbed very fast into the blood. So that’s another reason why you don’t need to tie anything. Therefore, immediately after a snake bite, what a person needs most is to stay calm and avoid movement.”

Knowledge tip: The most important thing immediately after a snakebite is to stay calm and avoid movement.

“But doctor, you didn’t mention sucking the bite to remove the poison as one of the things to do,” asked a passenger.”

“No, I didn’t because you should not suck a snakebite wound. Sucking removes such a small amount of venom, if at all, that it is almost of no benefit. And also, it increases the possibility of the wound becoming infected.”

“Hmmm. How about cutting the wound and letting it bleed?” another asked.

“That’s also a no-no.

In fact, here are eight things you should not do after a snakebite.

  • Don’t tie anything on the affected part be it a cloth, rope, or any other thing.
  • Don’t cut it open.
  • Don’t suck or suction it.
  • Don’t place ice on it.
  • Don’t take or apply any herbs or concoctions to it.
  • Don’t take alcohol or caffeine because they increase the heart rate.
  • Don’t place a black stone on it or try to heal a snake bite by incantation.
  • Don’t waste any time getting to the nearest health centre. Getting there as soon as possible improves chances of survival.
Razor blade: Don't use it after a snakebite

“Wow!” Henry and Kofo said in unison. “Thanks a lot.”

“You’re welcome. Glad to be of help,” she said smiling as she walked away.

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8 thoughts on “8 things to do (and to avoid) after a snakebite”

  1. Enlightening, I have been living in ignorance. But with this post, ignorance i s no more an excuse. Thanks doc!

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