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What to do if a snake bites you

Whether you’re scared of snakes or you subscribe to the idea that ‘they won’t bother me if I don’t bother them’, if you regularly go out to the desert or mountains, it’s good to know what you should do if you get bitten by a snake.

“There are approximately 3,000 species of snakes around the world. Twenty-two species of snakes had been registered in the Sultanate of Oman so far,” said Ahmed Humood al Busaidi, a Snake and Wildlife Specialist at Natural and Medical Sciences Research Center, University of Nizwa.

Being bitten by a snake requires a little first aid and then a quick run to the hospital.

“Approximately 40% of the Sultanate’s snakes are non-venomous, 20% are moderately venomous and 40% are very venomous. Some venomous snake bites, also, are dry without injecting venom, and some of them may be dangerous, so it is recommended to visit a doctor after being bitten,” Ahmed said.

There are many steps that should be followed after being bitten by a venomous snake.

“Don’t try to catch, injure or kill the snake – you’re likely to come off second best. Try to identify the type of snake by looking at it. At the hospital, staff have access to a range of tests that can help them determine the likely snake which you have been bitten by, enabling them to give you the most appropriate treatment,” he advised.

“Stay away from the site. Don’t panic. Avoid making muscular effort or movement as these movements may increase the heart rate and therefore, spread the venom faster,” he said.

Ahmed further explained that if you are in the wild, “Contact colleagues or call them for help without making any effort. (It is preferable to complete the necessary procedures for the person while he is lying down or seated).”

“Apply basic first aid while waiting for medical assistance which includes cleaning the wound with Alcohol or soap or even just by water. If you’ve got a pad or even a piece of plastic like cling wrap, put it over the bite site to either soak up or protect the venom for later testing, while making sure that you don’t block the circulation of blood,” he pointed out.

Ahmed stressed that the person need to go to the hospital to take the necessary serum.

“The best solution is to rush the injured to the nearest hospital, but in case no one is available to provide the help, you must call the Public Authority For Civil Defense and Ambulance number 24343666 or the emergency number 9999,” Ahmed said.

The injured, he warned, should not be left to walk, but rather carried to the nearest car, because some toxins lead to paralysis of the diaphragm or heart muscle and weakness in breathing, and movement as well may increase the heart rate which may allow the venom to spread through the blood circulation faster.

There are a lot of wrong habits that some people do when they are bitten by venomous snakes, and they may lead to serious complications. He clarified that “ cutting the wound with a sharp object such as a razor blade to extract the poison is a wrong habit because it may increase the spread of the poison throughout the wound and may lead to infections.”

He added that “Sucking the wound to extract the poison will not help dealing with the case because the poison will transfer to the mouth and reach the gums that would absorb the poison quickly.”

Wrapping the wound tight may rupture the small blood vessels, and then larger complications may occur. Ahmed warned about taking any medications to reduce pain, justifying that some medications may have dangerous side effects, such as aspirin and others.

Ahmed shared some advice that protects you from snake bites.

Important of all is to “Stay alert when you are in places likely to harbour snakes.”

“Do not surround the snake because it will attack you as a normal reaction, just leave it, and if it is in the house or farm, it must be carried with tongs from specialists and left in places far from the dwelling and I do not recommend killing it,” he advised.

“Snakes are an important part of an ecosystem that is connected to a complex network of the food chain. This means that animals feed on each other to continue their lives, and if one species is endangered, this will contribute to the destruction of the environment,” he said.

When camping, Ahmed advised that the lights must be lit and the tent should be closed when sleeping to avoid snakes or even scorpions from entering as these animals are usually attracted by the warmth.

He said, “Do not make your home a haven for snakes. It is, therefore, preferable to fix the cracks in the walls, get rid of the accumulated stones and wood, trim the low trees, mow the weeds constantly, and control insects and rodents.”

The toxins in snakes are classified into four main types according to their direct effect on the victim’s body: Heamotoxin which destroys the properties or functions of the blood, Cytotoxin which destroys cells of the body, Neurotoxin which destroys the nervous system, and Mycotoxin which is a poison that destroys the muscular system.

He mentioned some of the dangerous Omani snakes like “false horned viper” which is scientifically called “Pseudocerastes persicus” and located at Hajar mountain range, Arabian cobra in Dhofar Governorate, and Arabian sand horned viper located in the sandy desert.

Photos by Ahmed Al Busaidi

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