Addressing snake bites

Although medevac might at times be necessary, Remote Medical International cautions against making it the first response to snake bites, as valuable time is lost during the process

Globally, at least 600 000 people are killed, or permanently disabled as a result of a snake bite each year. Aside from the deadly consequences, the threat of being bitten by a snake can also impact on workforce morale and efficiency. This is especially true for industries operating in environments prone to snakes such as the forestry sector. Effectively responding to snake bites limits the impact on productivity but, more importantly and saves lives.

Besides having a robust safety system in place and educating workers to avoid being bitten by a snake, having a proper strategy to respond to snake bites is imporant.

Earlier administration of snake antivenom is strongly associated with reduced mortality, morbidity and lost time. The first minutes after being bitten are critical to saving the life and limb of the patient.

Availability of the right snake antivenom is a challenge in remote locations – not to mention the lack of training to administer it. Although medevacs may appear to be a good solution, there are many downsides. First, a medevac is costly and places stress on the patient.

Second, and more critically, time really is of the essence when it comes to treating a snake bite. Delaying treatment means increased damage to surrounding tissue. Antivenom can prevent or stop the progression of the venom, but once the damage has been done, it can’t be reversed.

Although medevac may still ultimately be required, the ability to assess and treat the wound locally offers numerous benefits. The bite can be treated more quickly and the knowledge that this service is at hand provides the workforce with greater peace of mind.

Remote Medical International can assist businesses in developing response strategies that include the evaluation of the local threat, identification of species of concern, an assessment of the relative risk to workers, and a clear risk-reduction strategy.

Its clinical implementation comprises assessment of which antivenom is most effective against the local venomous snakes of medical significance and the creation of advanced field treatment protocols, along with continual advice and 24-hour consultation with medical and subject-matter experts in the event of envenomation.

Andy Kimmell, operations director of global coordination and security at Remote Medical International, says: “A medical response team for an envenomation needs to be trained specifically for such an event, but the overall management of snakes in the area requires cooperation through a multidisciplinary team.

“We work with experts in snake bites and antivenom and a senior subject-matter expert is always available to oversee incidents. It is through a well thought out, robust and cohesive strategy, put together by experts in this field, that we are able to save lives and limbs.”

Prevention of snake bites is the first goal. The team works proactively with snake handlers, as well as safety and security teams to try to remove the threat of snake bites from camps and work areas. When an incident does occur, the circumstances are reviewed, and safeguarding procedures are updated if appropriate.

Medevacs, although sometimes necessary, should not be the primary approach to snake bites. By working with experts and producing a complete plan to reduce the risk of snake encounters and a swift and effective response in the event of a snake bite, companies can ensure peace of mind and safety of employees.

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