Let me reassure you, less than 0.01% of all Hospital Emergency Admissions are from snake bites, and you are more likely to get hit by lightening than die from a snakebite, with very few severe bites at all. Deaths in Hong Kong are now virtually unknown, and limited to those handling snakes, and the last recorded fatality was in 1988 from an imported “pet”. In China and South Asia the overwhelming number of snakebites are tragically on poor farmers out in rice fields or plantations with little (foot, leg, hand, arm) protection and poor access to medical care. In Asia snakebites on humans are defensive, and just as you would not walk around in a field during a lightening storm, there are some basic things you can do to help your odds.
Here a harmless Chinese Mountain snake curls up.
- Do your research, know where snakes are most likely to be found, and be prepared! If you run, hike or dog walk in the jungles of Asia, snakes are part of the natural environment. Would you let your children or dogs run across the African plains – or the city streets - unattended or unleashed? If you hear of snake attacks in a certain area, then avoid it, or take sensible precautions. Keep your dog(s) on a leash and your children close.
- Snakes bite when they feel threatened or startled, so give them warning. Since they cannot see well, they rely on vibrations, so create noise with heavy footsteps, tap ahead of you with a walking stick, or beat the grass, especially before entering an area where you can't see your feet.
- Wear appropriate clothing - Legs and feet are very common bite sites, wearing boots and long pants goes a very long way to help protect you.
- Never provoke, touch, or try and catch a snake. That is when many serious snake bites occur – or when trying to take pictures, getting too close with a camera phone! Some snakes play dead, and even a dead or decapitated snake can bite and release venom, for 90 minutes or more after it dies. If you see a snake, leave it alone! Simply move away slowly. If you are in danger, or it’s in your home, call the local emergency services.
Here a python in water senses my approach, before turning away.
Do not randomly kill snakes – it is immoral as well as illegal.
- Always carry a phone, to call for help if you are bitten.
- If you hike often, carry a first aid kit, with pressure bandages. Snake bite kits are essentially useless.
- There is no simple rule to determine whether a snake is venomous.
- Being drunk does not guarantee immunity! In the United States more than 40% of people bitten are attempting to capture wild snakes or handling their dangerous pets, and 40% of that number had a blood alcohol level of 0.1% or more.
- An estimated 95 percent of recorded venomous snakebites in Hong Kong were from the bamboo viper, which fortunately is not deadly. But in Thailand The Malayan Pit Viper, and in South Asia the Russell’s viper are the snakes most likely to bite you, and their bites can be fatal. Watch where you put your feet and hands, and remember, boots and long trousers go a long way in preventing serious wounds.
Here the dangerous many banded Krait stands out against its background.
See part II about what to do if you are bitten! and see www.hongkongsnakeid.com for more information and pictures and information about our local snakes.