TWO Cape Cobras, in the garden of a Durbanville resident, embroiled in a fight. These snakes are immune to each other's venom. Snakes, such as cobras, are seen more frequently as a result of the hot weather. Picture: Ian Landsberg African News Agency (ANA)
TWO Cape Cobras, in the garden of a Durbanville resident, embroiled in a fight. These snakes are immune to each other's venom. Snakes, such as cobras, are seen more frequently as a result of the hot weather. Picture: Ian Landsberg African News Agency (ANA)

Snakebite season has arrived Capetonians! What you should know when spending time outside

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published Oct 15, 2021

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CAPE TOWN: Cape residents have been advised to be on the lookout when enjoying outdoor activities, as snakebite season has arrived.

The Western Cape Health Department has issued an alert to residents that October to April is snakebite season and, as temperatures increase, snakes become more active.

Most snakes found in South Africa are harmless and beneficial to the ecosystem, however, the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape (PIHWC) has urged people to watch their steps and pay close attention while enjoying outdoor activities, during this time of the year.

Recently, a video was making the rounds on Twitter of snakes on Lion’s Head, close to a trail where hikers were passing along.

Snakes are usually not aggressive and will only bite when provoked. Snake bites usually occur when a snake is frightened, feels endangered, and is forced to react in self-defence.

The PIHWC receives many calls concerning snakebites every year. During a five-year period (June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2020), the PIHWC received 1 411 calls regarding snakebites.

Dr Carine Marks, director of the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre said: “About 3% of our calls were related to snakebites (51 704), as most calls involved poisoning exposures to pharmaceuticals (28 418), and non-drug chemicals (25 396).

“During the same period, 774 calls were received concerning spider bites, and 858 concerning scorpion stings,” said Marks.

The PIHWC is a 24-hour service, provided jointly by the Tygerberg Poisons Information Centre, and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Poisons Information Centre.

The public, as well as health workers, can contact the PIHWC at 0861 555 777.

Marks further advised that before leaving for a hike, climbing, mountain biking or camping trip, residents should find out where the nearest medical facility is and note the telephone number.

“In the case of a snakebite, get the patient to a medical facility as soon as possible. Phone ahead to notify them of the arrival of a snakebite victim.

“Note that, in most cases, you have a couple of hours before serious life-threatening symptoms manifest themselves. Immobilise the patient if possible.

“If alone, keep calm and do not walk too fast or run, as it speeds up the distribution of the venom. Do not suck the bite site and do not apply a tourniquet,” Marks said.

“Only in suspected neurotoxic bites (mamba or Cape cobra) is it recommended that you apply a wide crepe bandage firmly above the bite site (as tightly as for a sprained ankle) to slow the spread of venom to vital organs, like the heart and lungs.

“The life-threatening neurotoxic effects of the mamba and Cape cobra bites, (such as difficulty in breathing) develop within 30 minutes to four hours.

“If you are more than two hours away from medical assistance, respiratory support, like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, may be necessary,” Marks said.

“The life-threatening effects of a cytotoxic snake bite, like a puff adder, develop late (siix to 24 hours). Comforting and reassuring the patient is a very important part of the first aid treatment.

“Try to get a good description (or photo) of the snake,” said Marks.

Marks concluded by informing residents that anti-venom should only be administered by the trained medical staff in a medical facility.

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