Sydney’s warm weather has woken our snakes

Lucy Cormack, Environment reporter
Published: October 9, 2015 – 5:34PM

Sarah Adam was just buckling her kids into the car when she felt it strike.

The juvenile red belly black snake had been quick to sink its fangs into the side of her foot and she felt an instant rush of pressure and pain.

“That’s the best way to describe it, like someone had thrown a rock.”

When she was bitten last weekend Ms Adam, 31, was leaving the home of her parents-in-law, who had never seen a snake at their south-western Sydney home in 37 years.

“The kids were quite frightened,” the primary school teacher said. “We were very glad it was me and not them. We called triple zero and they told my family how to apply the pressure bandage while we waited for the ambulance.”

The incident would lead to a four-day stay in the neuro ward of Campbelltown Hospital, where doctors were concerned about kidney and liver damage due to a pre-existing medical conditions combined with shock and dehydration.

While Ms Adam is now out of hospital, she is still recovering from the incident.

“I didn’t realise the lasting effects. I’ve been feeling very tired, it can be really hard to walk first thing in the morning.”

Ms Adam’s snake bite came right on cue with the end of the winter hibernation period, when warmer weather draws reptiles out of their winter sleep.

“They want to sit in the sun and warm up and they’re looking to catch up on a couple of meals,” said Geoff Ross, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service officer.

“They can be a little slow in the mornings. People often think they are sticks and tread on them.”

In the 12 months to August 31 this year, NSW Ambulance paramedics attended 813 incidents involving snakes and spiders, 248 of which were suspected snake bites.

Western Sydney attracted the most number of calls with 137, followed by 87 in the Hunter, 85 in the Northern Rivers and 82 in south-west Sydney.

Red belly black snakes, green tree snakes and diamond pythons are some of the most common species Sydneysiders can encounter in the warmer months, said Bill Collett, venom program supervisor at the Australian Reptile Park at Somersby on the Central Coast.

“The snakes are out moving … the boys especially, all they’ve got on their mind is mating, so they’re out looking for females.”

Mr Collett said Ms Adam’s situation was not surprising, as the most common place to be bitten is on the feet.

“The first thing you should do is put a pressure bandage around the bite site three times, straight up the limb, remove all your jewellery and don’t wash it, because the doctors like to take a swab of the area to pick up the venom to identify the species.”

By the time a bite victim is treated in hospital, a doctor will have administered an anti-venom to the bite wound. What many people do not know is the other animal involved in the healing process: the percheron horse.

Each week specialists at the Australian Reptile Park milk 250 Australian venomous snakes, before sending the milk to a lab to be freeze-dried and turned into anti-venom, which is injected into the same number of horses over nine months.

“In that period the horse builds up antibodies in the blood system,” Mr Collett said,

“They take a litre of blood out of the horse at a time, clean up the blood and extract the antibodies to be reduced to a usable form … they’ve been doing it that way since the 1950s.”

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There back so look out. Make sure you know how to treat a snake it by completing a first aid course with Canberra First Aid.

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