Snake and Spider Bites: What Parents Need To Know

Snake and Spider Bites: What Parents Need To Know

Australia has a pretty fearsome reputation as the home of creatures that want to bite, sting or poison you.

Of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, Australia is ‘lucky’ enough to have 21 of them.

Of more than 2,400 species of spiders in Australia, just under 50 are harmful to human beings.

None of this is particularly comforting to parents of young children.

Snake and Spider Bites: What Parents Need To Know

A new study has revealed more than half of all Australian parents of children under the age of 18 aren’t confident about first aid for bites and stings.

When summer arrives, the likelihood of encountering a venomous creature increases. It’s a good time for parents to check what they know about snake and spider spites and brush up on first aid.

What Did The Study Find?

The survey from Seqirus, a CSL company, looked at how almost 1,500 Australians prepare for summer.

The results were startling. The survey revealed many people were not prepared for the potential dangers of the great outdoors during the hotter months.

Only 11% of those surveyed believed updating their awareness of first aid for stings and bites to be a top priority. Most listed activities such as diets, planning holidays or losing weight as more important.

Over 50% of parents with children under 18 years old stated they weren’t confident or were unsure of how to treat bites and stings from venomous creatures.

Those living in rural Western Australia are the least likely to know what to do. According to the results, 62% stated they weren’t confident or unsure what to do for a venomous bite or sting.

South Australians were the most confident but, even so, almost 40% were unsure or not confident about first aid for envenomation.

These results are staggering. Summer time means more time at the pool or beach, and more outdoor adventures. These activities increase the chances of needing some first aid knowledge. Yet Australian parents aren't prepared.

What Does This Mean?

Most children who grow up in Australia become aware, at some point, the natural environment includes venomous creatures that cause harm to human beings.

However, people tend to be quite complacent about the possibility of being bitten or stung by a venomous creature. Many believe it only happens ‘in the bush’ and they don't consider their local environment.

Funnel-web spiders are found in urban gardens, and redback spiders often live near homes – in log piles, sheds or toilets. Many regional and urban areas of Australia are home to various local species of venomous snakes.

Fortunately, few people die of venomous bites, thanks to better access to medical assistance and anti-venom treatments.

Children might not always be aware they have been bitten by a venomous creature, so it’s vital parents know what to look for if their child complains about a bite. Knowing how to apply first aid to venomous bites and stings can potentially save lives.

If children are bitten, or you suspect they might have been bitten, by a snake or spider, seek immediate medical assistance by dialling 000.

First Aid For Snake Bite

Snakes rarely attack unless they are provoked or their way to escape is blocked. Most snake bites in Australia occur when people attempt to catch a snake to remove it.

Snakes deliver their venom through paired fangs. Not every bite will actually cause envenomation, but all bites should be treated as though this has occurred.

Snake venoms are quite complex and cause a range of different effects in human beings, most notably neurotoxic muscle paralysis, which can cause respiratory failure, and can be fatal.

Contrary to popular opinion, snake venom doesn’t immediately get into the bloodstream. Initially, a snake bite injects venom into the lymphatic fluid around the blood vessels.

If left untreated, snake venom travels, via the lymphatic fluid, to a lymph node, where it then drains into the bloodstream.

That is why it is critical to be aware of the correct way to manage a suspected snake bite. It can save lives.

Signs Your Child Has Been Bitten By A Snake

If a snake bite hasn’t delivered venom, it is called a dry bite. It can cause pain, redness and swelling around the bite. Always assume a snake bite has envenomated, however, and treat it as a medical emergency.

The most common symptoms of snake envenomation occur within the first hour after the bite. They are:

  • Paired or single puncture wounds, or very faint scratch marks
  • Severe pain around the site
  • Bruising, swelling, or bleeding from the bite
  • Swollen and tender glands in groin or armpit of the bitten limb
  • Stinging, burning or unusual feeling in the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness, blurred vision, headache
  • Breathing, speaking or swallowing difficulties
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Limb weakness
  • Confusion or collapse, with partial or complete recovery.

Treatment For Snake Bite

It’s very important to remain calm in the event your child is bitten, or if you suspect your child has been bitten. If the snake is still in the area, ensure your child’s safety, and yours, before applying first aid.

  • Immediately seek medical assistance, by dialing 000.
  • Only move your child if the snake is still in the area and poses further danger.
  • Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage, to slow the movement of venom through the lymphatic system.
  • Splint bitten limbs to prevent movement
  • Keep your child still until medical assistance is available.

What Not To Do For Snake Bite

You don’t need to catch the snake for identification, as medical services no longer require visual confirmation of the snake species.

Don’t wash the wound. Medical services can identify the snake species by swabbing the wound for venom present on clothing or skin.

You should not apply a tourniquet; don’t cut or incise the bite.

Don’t move your child unnecessarily, or remove the compression bandage. If applied correctly, the bandage and lack of movement will stop the venom travelling through the lymphatic system. This will improve your child’s chances of avoiding serious effects of snake bite.

How To Avoid Snake Bite

The best way to prevent yourself and your children being bitten by snakes is to know where snakes live and to be aware of their habits.

  • Never touch a snake
  • Wear protective shoes when walking in bushland or long grass
  • Keep areas around your home free of places for snakes to hide
  • Don’t put your hands into places snakes might hide, such as hollow logs or under log piles
  • Always watch where you’re stepping, especially when walking over fallen logs or near the base of trees
  • Be watchful in areas where there are abundant food sources for snakes, such as waterways and wetlands
  • Be mindful, as snakes are often more active on warm evenings.

First Aid For Spider Bite

Thankfully, fatalities from spider bites are almost non-existent since the introduction of antivenom for redback spiders in 1956 and for funnel web spiders in 1980. About 30-40 people are bitten by funnel-web spiders, and an estimated 2,000 people are bitten by redback spiders every year.

The bite of many Australian spiders can cause pain, but only some types of funnel-web spider bites are immediately life-threatening. The redback spider can be fatal to small children so immediate first aid for spider bites is essential.

In terms of first aid for spider bites, there are three types, or groups, of spiders to consider:

  • Large black spiders, which include funnel web spiders, mouse spiders and any other large dark coloured spider.
  • Redback spiders – females have distinctive orange-red stripes whereas the males are paler.
  • All other spiders – they are harmless, although bites might cause some pain and swelling at the site. White tailed spiders aren’t venomous.

Signs Your Child Has Been Bitten By A Spider

If your child is bitten by a spider, it is helpful to identify its type according to the above groups. If you’re able to identify the spider or catch it safely, it will help medical services apply the correct anti-venom, if necessary.

Funnel-web or mouse spider bites can result in:

  • Painful bite and noticeable fang marks
  • Swelling and redness around the site of the bite
  • Extremely profuse sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tingling around the mouth and drooling
  • Muscle twitching
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Confusion leading to unconsciousness.

Redback spider bites can result in:

  • Very painful bite site
  • Redness, swelling and heated area at the site of the bite
  • Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Swollen and sore lymph nodes
  • Headaches, sweating or fever.

Treatment For Spider Bites

Treatment for spider bites depends on the type of spider that has bitten your child.

If you’re not sure what type of spider it was, watch and monitor your child for signs that might indicate the species.

For funnel-web/mouse spider bites:

  • If your child is bitten by a large, dark looking spider, dial 000 immediately or take your child to the nearest emergency department. Life-threatening effects of a funnel-web or mouse spider venom can result within 10 minutes after a bite.
  • Apply a pressure immobilsation bandage, to slow the transport of venom through the lymphatic system
  • Splint the affected limb and keep the child still and calm
  • Apply CPR if necessary.

For redback spider bites:

  • Dial 000 or take your child to the nearest emergency department. Redback spider venom acts slowly but can be fatal to young children. The bite is very painful.
  • Apply a cold compress to the site of the bite
  • Compression bandage should not be used, as it can increase pain.

For all other spider bites:

  • Apply a cold compress to the site of the bite
  • Compression bandage shouldn’t be used as it can increase pain
  • Seek medical assistance if child complains of pain or there are signs of infection at the site of the bite.

Although it happens  rarely, some children can have serious reactions to spider bites, such as:

  • Swelling around the mouth, throat or tongue
  • Rashes, itching, flushing
  • Difficulty swallowing, breathing or shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach cramps
  • Weakness or muscle spams
  • Collapsing or unconsciousness.

Dial 000 or take your child to the nearest emergency department if you observe any of these symptoms.

How To Avoid Spider Bites

Spiders tend to be in places we least expect them. White-tailed spiders are attracted to clothes left on the floor, and redback spiders can be found behind the toilet cistern.

Funnel-web spiders live in burrows in the ground or  in tree stumps. Male funnel-web spiders are more likely to be the cause of bites as they wander at night during summer and autumn, and can enter houses, particularly during or after it rains.

It can be difficult to avoid spider bites, but the chances of being bitten are reduced if you and your children follow these guidelines:

  • Never touch spiders or spider webs
  • Wear protective shoes and clothes when gardening
  • Always check shoes before putting them on, and avoid leaving clothes on the floor
  • Check burrows or spider webs with a stick or spider broom
  • Never assume a spider at the bottom of the pool is dead. Funnel-webs can survive for up to 24 hours in air bubbles in water
  • Look before reaching into nooks, hollow logs, even under furniture that isn’t frequently used. Most spider bites happen when the spider is surprised or feels threatened
  • Keep your garden and the area surrounding your house free of rubbish.

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Sam McCulloch Dip CBEd CONTRIBUTOR

Sam McCulloch enjoys talking so much about birth that she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she watches Downton Abbey and has numerous creative projects on the go. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.


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