Of the Cape Peninsula

(Which can be Fatal to Humans)

Common Name Scientific Name Type of Venom Immediate first Aid
Cape Cobra Naja Nivea Neurotoxic Venom Pressure bandage, immobilise limb, transport to hospital immediately, support breathing
Puffadder Bitis Arietans Cytotoxic Venom Transport to hospital
Boomslang Dispholidus Typus Haemotoxic Venom Transport to hospital
Rinkhals Hemachatus Haemachatus Neurotoxic Venom Transport to hospital - this snake is not common on the Cape Peninsula and fatalities countrywide, are very rare, with only 2 confirmed cases

List of Venomous Snakes of South Africa

A few points to remember:

How to avoid being bitten by snakes

FIRST AID in SNAKEBITE:

DO NOTS

Shock - How to Recognise and Treat

Shock is a condition in which the circulatory system fails to circulate blood throughout the body properly. It is a progressive deteriorating condition that can be fatal. It is present to some degree in ALL physical trauma

Shock CAN kill.

The first indication that a person is going into shock is restlessness or irritability.
Some of the symptoms of shock are:

Although it is impossible to care for shock by first-aid alone, you can take measures that could be life-saving.

First-Aid Treatment for shock is:

The first aid of choice, in snakebite, is the pressure bandage

The aim of the pressure bandage is to immobilise the limb and restrict the flow in the lymphatic system. This will slow the transport of the venom dramatically giving you the few hours extra to transport the patient to a well-equipped facility where medical practitioners can take over.

A word of advice - many medical men have never seen or treated snakebite. It is fairly rare. Telephone your nearest Poison Centre, University or Snake Park. They usually are able to give advice on physicians with experience of handling snake envenomation. You may ask the treating physician to consult with such a person.

Application of the pressure bandage: PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS SHOULD NOT BE DONE IF YO CAN GET TO A MEDICAL FACILITY WITHIN 30 MINUTES, IT WASTES VALUABLE TIME

Get the victim to lie down immediately. Relax and reassure them. Keep calm yourself - you will have enough time. Talk soothingly and be confident.

Using a crêpe bandage (or torn up strips of material) bandage the bitten limb. Start at the bite site and work upwards. Do not remove clothes as the movement required will assist the venom to spread. Wrap the limb as tightly as you would for a sprain. Firm, but do not cut off the blood supply. Apply a splint to the limb to immobilise it. Avoid massaging or rubbing the bite area. Do not remove the pressure bandage until medical personnel are ready to start treatment.

A VICTIM OF A PUFFADDER BITE TO THE ANKLE IS MADE TO LIE DOWN IMMEDIATELY A PRESSURE BANDAGE, STARTING AT THE BITE SITE, IS BEGUN
THE WIDE CREPE BANDAGE IS BOUND AS TIGHTLY AS FOR A SPRAIN THE BANDAGE IS TAKEN AS HIGH UP THE LIMB AS POSSIBLE
A SPLINT IS APPLIED TO THE PRESSURE-BANDAGED LIMB THE SPLINT IS BOUND TO THE LIMB SO AS TO IMMOBILISE IT COMPLETELY
THE LEG IS NOW COMPLETELY IMMOBILISED BY THE SPLINT THE PATIENT IS NOW READY TO BE TRANSPORTED TO A HOSPITAL

Some things to do

MEET THE VENOMOUS SNAKES OF THE PENINSULA

Naja Nivea - Cape Cobra, Geelkapel, Koperkapel.

The Cape Cobra is a small cobra, rarely exceeding 1.5 metres in length. It is the only cobra likely to be encountered on the Peninsula, excepting the Rinkhals which is very rare and not a true cobra - or cobras recently escaped from collections. The treatment for all cobra bites is, in any case exactly the same. Cobras are distinguished by their large hoods which are spread when the snake is agitated.

It is a slender, nervous snake that readily defends itself by biting. It spreads a large hood. The colour varies from black through to buttermilk with an almost infinite number of variations inbetween. It can be speckled or uniform in colour. Juveniles have a broad black band on the throat which fades with age.

Cape Cobras are known for their habit of entering residences to shelter from the heat. They are mainly terrestrial but do climb trees and can swim quite well. They are territorial snakes and tend to frequent the same places.

A first line of defense by this snake is to rear up and spread its hood. It may hiss quite vigourously. Its sense of sight is poor and if you remain quite still it will eventually move off. They are said to be more aggressive during the mating season - which is usually from September to October.

A bite from a Cape Cobra constitutes a grave medical emergency.

Its venom is as potent as a Black Mamba's - but it injects less of it. Transport the patient as rapidly as possible to a medical facility after pressure bandaging. Be prepared to support breathing.

You should have at least an hour before dangerous symptoms begin to manifest themself.

Bitis Arietans - Puff adder, Pofadder

A large, sluggish, thick-bodied snake that rarely exceeds a metre in length. Colouration is varied and ranges from dull grey with barely discernable markings through to light brown with yellow and white chevron markings.

Responsible for many bites as this snake relies on its camouflage for protection and does not move off readily when approached. Thus it is often stepped upon.

The venom is potently cytotoxic and a bite from it is a fairly serious medical emergency. It may take hours before symptoms start to develop.

Pressure bandage and transport patient to the nearest large medical facility.

Dispholidus Typus - Boomslang

Potentially one of the most dangerous snakes. However its usual placid disposition means it seldom attempts to bite. Most of its victims have been snake handlers. A snake that is easily identified by its large eyes. It comes in a wide variety of colours ranging from dull olive-brown through to bright emerald green with blue and orange. Seldom exceeds 1.5 metres in length. It is an arboreal species and is often seen in trees - hence its name of "boom" slang.

The venom is dangerously haemotoxic and destroys the coagulant properties of the blood. It does not respond to the SAIMR polyvalent anti-venom. A special monovalent antivenene is available and works extremely well.

Hemachatus Haemachatus - Rinkhals

Very rare on the Peninsula although two small isolated populations are thought to exist in Kenilworth and Killarney. It is a smallish cobra-like snake rarely exceeding 1.2 metres in length. It is not a true cobra but occupies a genus all of its own. It differs from cobras in the fact that it gives live birth (vivaparous) and its scales are "keeled" which means they have a ridge running down the centre of them. Important skelatal difference exist also. Colouration tends to be a dull dark-grey with blackish underparts. It will rear up and spread a hood. If this does not scare an attacker off it will spit venom, quite accurately. Should the venom enter the eyes it will burn quite fiercely - and complications may arise if not treated rapidly. Immediately irrigate the eye with whatever liquid you have handy. Water, milk, beer, cooldrink - even urine will do failing anything else.

The Rinkhals is seldom implicated in any bites - and those usually only occur when it is picked up and handled. It tends to sham death. Leave all "dead" Rinkhalses strictly alone! It is controversial whether this snake has ever been implicated in any deaths. There have been 2 anecdotal cases from Gauteng

Transport to hospital.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS SNAKE IS NOT CONSIDERED A MAJOR THREAT DUE TO ITS SCARCITY AND WEAKER VENOM

Venoms:

Snake venoms are a modified form of saliva. They consist of a complex mixture of toxins, proteins and enzymes. They are usually well adapted to killing or immobilising the usual prey of a particular species. No snake venom is a pure substance with a single action.

For a more detailed essay on snake venom click here.

The actions of the venoms of the Peninsula snakes are:

Neurotoxic venom paralyses the musculature. Early warning symptoms are tingling in the lips, inability to swallow saliva and increasingly difficult respiration. The pupil dilates and does not respond to light. The action of such venoms is usually fairly rapid with severe symptoms manifesting themselves within hours in most cases.


Necrosis in a puffadder bite.
Cytotoxic venom destroys the cells - usually causing massive necrosis or death of large parts of flesh. Adders have long fangs and this means the venom can be injected quite deeply into the tissues.


Massive tissue bleeding in victim of a boomslang bite.
Haemotoxin causes the prolongation of blood clotting time or destroys the ability of the blood to clot at all. The victim suffers massive tissue bleeding and huge "bruises" develop all over the body. Blood oozes from all mucous membranes. It is slow acting and responds rapidly to the correct anti-venom. In severe cases massive transfusions of whole blood may be necessary.

Where to go, who to call, if you have been bitten

Institution Phone Number (Cape Town area code 021)
Poison Unit, Red Cross Hospital 021-689 5227
Groote Schuur Hospital, Casualty 021-404-4141
Tygerberg Hospital, Poison Unit 021-931-6129
Constantiaberg Mediclinic, Casualty 021-799-2087/021-799-2122

Links to similar sites

Recommended/Suggested further reading:


Acknowledgements:

The photographs of the snakebites are from the pamphlet Dangerous Snakes and Snakebite by John Visser.


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Copyright: Séan Thomas & Eugene Griessel - Dec 1999.