Snake Bites – Emergency Information

National 24/7 Emergency Call Centre – 0861 555 777

Black mambaThe Tygerberg Poison Information Helpline is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week helpline operated by medical professionals who specialise in envenomation from snakes, spiders, scorpions, etc., and poisoning.

  • If you or someone else has been bitten or stung by a venomous creature.
  • If you or someone else has thinks they have bitten or stung by a venomous creature.
  • If a medical professional requires advice regarding the treatment of envenomation or the use of antivenom.
    • What to do in the case of a snake bite

      Get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible and in a safe manner

      If you don’t know where the nearest hospital is, use your map app to find the closest one. Call ahead to ensure they can handle snake bite victims – they may refer you to another hospital or clinic. Also contact the Tygerberg Poison Information Helpline on 0861 555 777 for further advice.

      Alternatively, call for an ambulance.

      Keep the victim calm and as still as possible

      Movement speeds up the spread of venom in the lymphatic system. Immobilise the victim, lay the victim down if possible and transport to the closest hospital. Elevate the affected limb slightly above heart level.

      Try and identify the snake (for treatment)

      As anti-venom can cause anaphylactic shock, it’s only administered in a clinical environment, and only if the doctor deems it neccessary – most envenomations do NOT require antivenom, but serious snakes like the black mamba would require. That’s why it’s important to try and identify the snake. Snake identification is not easy, and some non-venomous snakes can easily be mistaken as venomous. In trying to identify the snake:

      • Do NOT TRY CATCH the snake! This could result in further envenomation!
      • If possible, try photograph the snake.
      • Try recall, or if the snake is still visible, record any identifying infomation, such as:
        • Colour and patterns
        • Scale texture
        • Head shape and eye size relative to the head
        • Length of snake, and thickness relative to length

      Remove rings and tight clothing

      If bitten on the hand, arm, foot, or lower leg, remove rings, bangles, bracelets, watches, anklets and any other tight jewellery, as well as tight clothing and shoes, as swelling could cause blood supply to be stopped when constricted by these items.

      Apply pressure bandages

      If you are more than an hour or two from the closest medical facility, consider applying pressure bandages to the affected limb, but only in suspected Black Mamba or Cape Cobra bites.
      IMPORTANT  Do not waste valuable time applying a pressure bandage – immediately transport the patient to the nearest hospital with a trauma unit and, if possible, apply the pressure bandage whilst travelling.

      What NOT to do in the case of a snake bite

       DO NOT try to

      • cut or suck out the venom
      • apply a tourniquet
      • give the patient alcohol or any other medication

      About the Tygerberg Poison Information Helpline

      The Tygerberg Poison Information Helpline provides a 24/7 telephonic toxicology consultation service to health care professionals and the general public on the management of poisonings, and envenomations, as well as drug poisons information.

      Note that this is a free service operated by the Poison Information Centres at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, respectively. The Tygerberg Poison Information Centre is situated in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences on the Tygerberg Campus of Stellenbosch University, in close proximity to the Tygerberg Academic Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital Poison Information Centre is situated in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.