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Bites and stings

Envenomation is the word used to describe the bite or sting from a poisonous animal / insect such as snake, spider, bee or jellyfish. Tens of thousands of bites and stings occur in Australia every year. Australia houses some of the most poisonous land and water animals such as the funnel web spider.

Fast and appropriate first aid management of bites and stings can slow the poison from spreading and SAVE lives.

Caution

One method for preventing the spread of the venom through the lymphatic system is application of the Pressure Immobilisation Technique.

The Pressure Immobilisation Technique is recommended only for use for the following types of bites or stings.

If a severe allergic reaction occurs, use the Pressure Immobilisation Technique for all bites and stings.

Pressure Immobilisation Technique

The Pressure Immobilisation Technique has been proven to be effective if firm pressure is applied to the bite area and the entire limb, and the limb is immobilised.

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Caution — DO NOT use the Pressure Immobilisation Technique for the following bites and stings:

However, if a severe allergic reaction occurs, use the ‘Pressure Immobilisation Technique’ for all bites and stings.

Snake bites

Australia has venomous snakes that are capable of lethal bites to humans. These include the small scaled snakes, brown snakes, taipans, tiger snakes, death adders, black snakes, copperhead snakes, rough scaled snakes and many sea snakes.

Drawing of a snake

Figure 12: Snake

Signs and symptoms of a snake bite

These are many and varied. Every case of snake bite might present itself with different signs and symptoms. Often the symptoms can disappear and reappear. This can make management difficult. The onset of symptoms usually appears within 15 minutes and up to 2 hours after the bite and can include:

Management of a snake bite

  1. DRABCD – be careful not to get bitten yourself.
  2. Rest the casualty, do not let them move or walk around.
  3. Call for medical help as soon as possible.
  4. Pressure Immobilisation Technique.
  5. Provide reassurance.

Spider bites

Funnel web spider

Several species of funnel web spider are found on the east coast of Australia. These spiders are black or reddish brown in colour and have a smooth front body segment and a hairy abdomen. Their legs are long, with large spines and are not very furry.

Drawing of a hairy spider

Figure 13: Funnel web spider

Signs and symptoms of a funnel web spider bite

Can include:

Management of a funnel web spider bite

  1. DRABCD – be careful not to get bitten yourself.
  2. Rest the casualty.
  3. Call for help as soon as possible.
  4. Pressure Immobilisation Technique.
  5. Provide reassurance.

Red back spider

The red back spider is not aggressive by nature and occurs throughout Australia. The red back female is larger than the male and will usually only bite if incorrectly handled.

Drawing of a spider with a red back

Figure 14: Red back spider

Signs and symptoms of red back spider bite

Can include:

Management of red back spider bite

  1. DRABCD – be careful not to get bitten yourself.
  2. Rest the casualty.
  3. Apply ice to the bite site.
  4. Seek medical help.
  5. Provide reassurance.

Insect bites and stings

Bee sting

The principal concern with bee stings is not the pain (though this may be quite severe), but the possibility of developing an allergy to the venom. In some parts of the world bee sting allergy is one of the leading causes of death from bites and stings.

Signs and symptoms of a bee sting

Can include:

Management of a bee sting

  1. DRABCD
  2. Remove the sting (barb) with a sideward scraping movement using a fingernail or an appropriate object.
  3. Apply a cold pack.
  4. Observe for signs of an allergic reaction.
  5. Provide reassurance.

Wasp sting

The European wasp is similar in colour to the bee and a little larger in size. The wasp is not aggressive by nature but will sting if disturbed. Though extremely rare, deaths have occurred from the sting of the European wasp.

Drawing of a wasp

Figure 15: Wasp

Ant stings

Many types of ants will sting, but the most severe stings are caused by bull ants and the fire ant.

Signs and symptoms of wasp and ant sting

Can include:

Management of wasp and ant stings

  1. DRABCD – be careful not to get stung yourself.
  2. Apply a cold pack.
  3. Observe for any signs of an allergic response.
  4. Provide reassurance.

Paralysis tick

The paralysis tick can cause serious ill effects in humans.

Drawing of a tick being pulled out by tweezers

Figure 16: Tick

Signs and symptoms of a tick bite

Can include:

Management of a tick bite

  1. DRABCD
  2. Do not squeeze the tick.
  3. Remove the whole tick using tweezers and a levering motion
  4. Inspect all skin areas for more ticks.
  5. Clean the tick bite site and the tweezers.
  6. Observe for signs of an allergic reaction.
  7. Provide reassurance.
  8. Seek medical assistance.

Marine animal bites and stings

In the waters around Australia there are many types of fish, jellyfish and other marine animals that can inflict painful and sometimes life threatening bites and stings.

Whenever you are near the water, in rock pools, rivers, creeks or the ocean, be alert for signs and symptoms of distress, pain or paralysis of a casualty who has been bitten or stung, and act immediately to administer first aid.

When a person who is in the water has been bitten or stung, there is an additional concern that the casualty may panic or be unable to swim which can lead to a drowning.

If it is safe to do so, it is important to remove the casualty from the water as soon as possible.

Blue-ringed octopus bite

Drawing of an octopus with blue rings on its body

Figure 17: Blue-ringed octopus

Found in coastal waters and tidal pools around Australia, the blue-ringed octopus has lethal venom in the saliva that can be injected in a painless bite. Most bites occur as a result of handling or stepping on the octopus. An effective bite can cause paralysis and may stop the victim from breathing within 10 to 20 minutes.

Signs and symptoms of a blue-ringed octopus bite

Can include:

Note: even though the casualty may be unable to move, they are often aware of their surroundings and require extensive reassurance.

Management of a blue-ringed octopus bite

  1. DRABCD and call 000 or a surf lifesaver (if available).
  2. Remove the casualty from the water (only if safe to do so).
  3. Give Basic Life Support as required.
  4. Pressure Immobilisation Technique.
  5. Provide reassurance.
  6. Closely monitor signs of life.

Box jellyfish sting

The box jellyfish is found in the tropical waters of northern Australia. Often very difficult to see in the water, the sudden and severe pain of the sting may be the first indication of its presence. The tentacles of the box jellyfish have a typical banded ladder appearance and leave similar markings and tentacles on the skin of the casualty.

Drawing of a jell fish with long tentacles

Figure 18: Box jellyfish

Signs and symptoms of a box jellyfish sting

Can include:

Management of a box jellyfish sting

  1. DRABCD and call 000 or 112 (digital mobile) or a surf lifesaver (if available).
  2. Remove the casualty from the water (only if safe to do so).
  3. Give Basic Life Support as required.
  4. Wash the area of the sting with large amounts of vinegar.
  5. Apply a cold pack for pain relief.
  6. Provide reassurance.
  7. Closely monitor signs of life.

Caution — DO NOT apply the Pressure Immobilisation Technique. DO NOT rub the affected area.

Bluebottle jellyfish stings

There are many species of the Portuguese man-o-war (bluebottles). They are found all over the Australian coastline and when in season occur in large numbers. Though a sting can cause severe local pain, the venom is not lethal and no deaths have been recorded.

Signs and symptoms of a bluebottle jellyfish sting

Can include:

Management of a blue bottle jellyfish sting

  1. DRABCD and call for a surf lifesaver (if available).
  2. Apply a cold pack for pain relief.
  3. Provide reassurance.

Caution — Bluebottle jellyfish sting DO NOT rub the affected area.

Cone snail (Cone shell)

The cone snail is found on beaches and in water pools in tropical regions of Australia. The shell is usually brown and white in colour and the shell contains a poisonous spine that sticks into the skin when the shell is handled.

Signs and symptoms of a cone snail envenomation

Can include:

Management of a cone snail envenomation

  1. DRABCD and call 000 or 112 (digital mobile) or a surf lifesaver (if available).
  2. Remove the casualty from the water (only if safe to do so).
  3. Apply Pressure Immobilisation Technique.
  4. Give Basic Life Support as required.
  5. Closely monitor signs of life.

Stonefish

The stonefish lives in northern NSW and the tropical regions. Envenomation occurs during handling or when stepping on the poisonous spines along the back of the fish.

Signs and symptoms of a stonefish sting

Can include:

Management of a stonefish sting

  1. DRABCD – remove casualty from the water and call 000 or 112 (digital mobile).
  2. Immerse the affected area in hot water (but avoid scalding).
  3. Closely monitor for signs of life.
  4. Give Basic Life Support as required.
  5. Provide reassurance.

Available antivenoms

Snakes: brown snake, black snake, taipan, death adder and tiger snake

Spiders: funnel web spider and red back spider

Marine animals: box jellyfish, stonefish, sea snake

Other: paralysis tick

Activity 4

Check your understanding: poisoning, bites and stings. In both these activities you will revise the different types of poisoning, bites and stings.

Click here for part 1 of Activity 4. Click here for part 2 of Activity 4