At least 32 species of sea snake have been recorded in Australian water and can be found in northern waters as well as in southern waters of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
ALL sea snakes are venomous, and rhabdomyolysis is a major feature of sea snake envenomation, resulting in muscle pain, tenderness and sometimes spasm. Myoglobinuria develops after 3-6 hours. The bite itself is not particularly painful, and may go unnoticed, distinguishing it from envenomation by stinging fishes or jellyfish, both of which usually cause immediate and often excruciating pain.
Envenomation may be treated with sea snake antivenom (based on the venom of the beaked sea snake, Enhydrina schistosa) or tiger snake antivenom. In the case of the latter, 2 ampoules should be given initially.
While using antivenom is the treatment getting the victim to a hospital that has it is the big problem and can be made worse by distance offshore or from appropriate facilities. This often involves a medivac situation either by helicopter or fast vessel.
Dealing with a sea snake bite
All sea snake bites should be treated as a medical emergency!
First the DO NOT’s
- Do not wash the bite area
- Do not apply a tourniquet
- Do not cut the wound
- Do not try to suck the venom (poison) out
If bitten by a sea snake sit down immediately, restrict all movement and notify another crew member who will then follow the guide below.
Snake bite treatment
- Immobilise the victim immediately;
- Have the Master or other crew member call 000 or 112 in remote areas and ask for ambulance;
- Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage over the bite site itself. It should be tight and you should not be able to easily slide a finger between the bandage and the skin;
- Use a elasticised roller or compression indicator bandage to immobilise the whole limb. Start just above the fingers or toes of the bitten limb and move upwards on the limb as far as the body;
- Write the time on the bandage over the bite site if possible;
- Splint the limb including joints on either side of the bite;
- Keep the person and the limb completely at rest.
Severe allergic reaction
Rarely, some people have a severe allergic reaction to being bitten by a snake. The reaction can happen within minutes and lead to anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis). Anaphylactic shock is very serious and can be fatal.
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:
- difficult or noisy breathing
- difficulty talking and/or a hoarse voice
- a swollen tongue
- persistent dizziness or collapse
- swelling or tightness in the throat
- being pale and floppy (young children)
- wheeze or persistent cough
If you or someone near you has symptoms of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. If you have access to an adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen™ or Anapen™), use it, continue to follow the steps of an ASCIA allergy action plan, if one is available.
For more information on anaphylaxis and an ASCIA allergy action plans, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
In some cases, the person bitten by the snake may need cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Venomous bites are when a snake bites your body and releases venom into the wound. Snake venom contains poisons that are designed to stun, numb or kill other animals.
Symptoms of a venomous bite include:
- severe pain around the bite — this might take time to develop
- swelling, bruising or bleeding from the bite
- bite marks on the skin — these might be obvious puncture wounds or almost invisible small scratches
Once venom starts to spread within the body, you may develop symptoms including:
- breathing difficulties
- headache, confusion or dizziness
- blurred vision
- nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick) or abdominal pain
- irregular heartbeat
- muscle weakness or paralysis (being unable to move)
Our number on recommendation is to have a recognised snake bit kit onboard. These contain Compression Indicator Bandages which ensure you get the right pressure on the limb. Too much pressure and you stop or reduce the blood flow, too little compression allows the venom to move and increases the risk level for the victim. A good snake bite kit will contain cotton gauze swabs, an emergency blanket, gloves, a permanent marker and 2 or 3 compression bandages. If you work in areas where sea snakes inhabit don’t leave port without a good quality snake bit kit!
The best tip we can give you is to ensure at least two people onboard have a “current” first aid and CPR certificate. This ensures that if a person with current first aid is the victim there is another person to provide first aid.