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Snakebite! What to do if you are bitten.

Let me reassure you that fatalities from snake bite have not been recorded in Hong Kong for decades. But there are c.30 recorded snake bites a year - and some can be extremely painful, and leave you in hospital for a few days - so be vigilant, and if you are unlucky, then remember this guide.

Thanks to Tommy for modelling this snake bite, from a harmless, small, snake.


  1. Move away from the snake and call emergency Services and get to a hospital. Seek medical care without delay. Even a bite from a non-venomous snake may require a tetanus shot or booster.

  2. Take note of the snake's appearance. This is important, as treatment varies. Don’t try and catch or kill the snake, but take a picture if you can, or try and remember its shape and colour. A positive snake ID can really help the doctors to help you better.

  3. Be as still as possible. If you're waiting for help to arrive, lie down on your back and take deep, steady breaths.

  4. Clean the wound with water. Be gentle.

  5. Remove clothing, jewellery, or constricting items.

  6. To wrap or not to wrap? Firstly, never apply a tourniquet. If you don’t know your snakes, it is better to immediately apply a pressure bandage/piece of cloth around the bite as well as above and below the bite, as recommended by the British Army. Elastic wraps that you use for ankle sprains work well. Wrap it snugly, but you should still be able to put a finger under the bandage. So, why not always apply a pressure bandage? Well, if the bite is from a snake with hemotoxic venom (The Bamboo Pit Viper/White Lipped Pit viper fro example) it could result in worse tissue damage, as you are concentrating the venom in one place (and as most bites in Hong Kong are from this snake, it is worth noting). But, as my friend says, “I'd personally rather be alive with a bad limb than dead!”

This healthy chap unfortunately sat on a Bamboo Viper....and he wrote to me that he can recommend the poison control centre at United Christian in Kwuntong if this happens to you! (This was some time ago, and I do not have your name for a credit, so please get in touch so I can thank you publicly for sharing)

Continuing the list of do's/don'ts:

  1. No food or drink – especially not alcohol.

  2. No stimulants or pain medication.

  3. Receive antivenom. Experienced doctors use with great caution as it carries its own risks.

  4. Caution… in remote areas (eg rural China) hospitals may not have anti-venom, and some physicians lack experience. For a realistic account of snakebite in rural china, then read this great account by Professor Kevin Messenger:

  5. Wait it out. If you are far from help (which is never really the case in tiny HK), then simply get as comfortable as possible and wait for the venom to leave your system. Almost half of all bites are “dry bites”, which means no venom was injected and in most cases, snakes don't inject enough venom for the bite to be fatal.

Remember: Don't try to suck the venom out.

Don't cut the skin around the wound.

Don’t apply a tourniquet.

Don't apply ice

This is the culprit for most snake bites in Hong Kong...the Bamboo Pit Viper (or more correctly the White-Lipped Viper).

I have a snake in my garden/house, what should I do? If you are not comfortable then it is a good idea to have it removed, by calling the police on 999 who will then contact a paid snake collector. It then goes for release to Kadoorie Farm and they deserve a BIG “well done” both to the government and Kadoorie Farm for putting in place a police coordinated rescue service.

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