Considering how crucial snakebite first aid knowledge can be in an emergency situation, it is a shame that information isn’t more widely disseminated. Luckily, first aid knowledge became more easily accessible than ever before in 2014.
Over the years there has been a great deal of confusion when it comes to first aid treatment for snakebites, and despite a number of books being written on the subject, many people still have a poor understanding of the effects of snakebites and what first aid measures to follow.
The advice given in books written in the first half of the 1900s was not particularly good, and the general books on snakes that followed contained very little on first aid treatment .
One of the most significant publications was Snakes and Snakebite: Venomous Snake and Snakebite Management, by Visser and Chapman. It was first published in the late 1970s and was one of the first popular publications in SA that properly dealt with snakebites and included sensible first aid advice. Sadly, by the early eighties it was out of print.
My first book, Snake versus Man, was published in 1984. It had a section on first aid for snakebites and I specifically included the use of pressure immobilisation (to retard the movement of venom by putting pressure on a bite, usually through the application of a bandage).
The idea of pressure immobilisation was popularised by a Dr Sutherland in Australia, where the deadly snakes all have predominantly neurotoxic venoms that spread rapidly and may affect breathing. It seemed a good idea for our mambas and some cobras, but some doctors in SA did not like the idea, perhaps because it was developed in Australia!
Very little was published about first aid for snakebites in the following 15 years, although some general books on snakes had a brief chapter on snakebites.
It was only in 1999 that the first edition of my book, Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa, was published by Struik. Close to 40 000 copies were sold over the following 15 years, including a fair number of Afrikaans editions.
My first warning poster – Snakes of Southern Africa: Dangerous and Common Harmless Snakes – followed in 2004, through Korck Publishers.
My Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa also appeared in English and Afrikaans in the early 2000s, again through Struik. The chapter on snakebite and first aid for snakebite comprised 12 pages and covered basic first aid. This book has done very well, with more than 60 000 copies sold to date.
In the past few years, interest in snakes has exploded, and I have written numerous magazine and newspaper articles on the topic. I also developed Dangerous Snakes posters for all the provinces, as well as Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Kenya.
I have also done a Common Harmless Snakes poster. All the posters are available as free downloads from my website, www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com.
With the renewed interest in snakes, snakebites and first aid treatment, it seemed that the time was right for a new book and the 2014 edition of Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa was published last year.
A number of people assisted with information and excellent photographs, and the book has already done phenomenally well. All credit to Pippa Parker and the Struik Natural History Books team. They are such a professional bunch and a delight to work with.
The book is available in English and Afrikaans. It contains the latest information on snakebites and the protocols to follow in an emergency.
At the same time, the Struik team started working on a snakebite first aid phone app – a first for Africa. The idea was to put something together that is simple yet comprehensive, concise and easy to use, and with good and accurate advice.
The app is up and running, available on Apple (from the iTunes store) and for all Android phones (go to the Google Play Store, search for “snakebite” and hit the “more” button if you do not see the red icon immediately). It sells for R60 – the price of three cappuccinos!
So, with several Dangerous Snakes posters released, a new book on snakebites that covers first aid and a brand-new snakebite first aid app, I can safely say that 2014 was a great year.