Snakes in particular pose a danger to both humans and domestic pets around Vietnam, with over 30,000 bites reported each year. As the cities expand and encroach on surrounding countryside and wetlands, we find ourselves living in close proximity to our reptilian friends.
Vietnam has over 140 known species of snakes, with around 30 being classed as venomous. It is important to educate yourself and those around you in what to do if you or a member of your family is bitten.
Prevention is Better than Cure
Unfortunately there is no definite way to identify a venomous snake, as many have evolved to look similar to those non-venomous, so treat all as potentially dangerous.
Do not give snakes a place to hide around your home. Keep grass short and clear low bushes. Keep rubbish away from the home and garden as this attracts rodents that snakes hunt for food. Water sources such as ponds or disused swimming pools will attract frogs and toads, another food source for snakes. Many species are nocturnal, so use a light when walking in your garden or yard at night.
Avoid these creatures where possible, do not try to capture or handle them. Snakes do not generally confront large animals (including humans) unless provoked, so if you see a snake, quietly back away to safety and allow it to slither away.
Should you or someone close to you be bitten, knowledge of effective first aid can be life-saving.
What to Do
— Reassure the victim.
— Lay the victim down, and if possible immobilize the bitten limb with a splint or sling and keep it below heart level. By keeping still, you can limit muscular contraction therefore decreasing the absorption of venom into the blood stream.
— Remove rings, watches and constrictive clothing in case of swelling.
— If possible, try to remember what the snake looked like; size, colour and type if you know it, to advise the doctor once you reach a medical facility. Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake. It is important to note that a severed snakehead can still bite and inject venom.
— Lastly, get the victim to a hospital as quickly as possible. This may be by taxi, car or ambulance. If by ambulance, first calm the victim, then call the ambulance and continue to administer first aid once help is on the way.
It is important to note that snake anti-venom is a controlled substance in Vietnam as in many other countries. Your nearest medical facility will be unlikely to have anti-venom on site; however they will be able to stabilize the victim and assist to get them to the nearest poisons unit.
What Not to Do
— Do not apply a tourniquet to the injured limb. This can cause extreme pain and permanent vascular damage to the limb.
— Do not attempt to suck out the venom.
— Do not attempt to make cuts or incisions around the bite.
— Do not interfere with or vigorously wash the wound.
By sticking to this simple guide you could save the life of yourself or someone around you that has been bitten.
Ali Cannon (RGN) is the clinic manager of International SOS Hanoi. For information or assistance call (04) 3934 0666 (Hanoi), (08) 3829 8520 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (064) 385 8776 (Vung Tau). Alternatively, click on internationalsos.com