Medical practitioners, healthcare workers and emergency departments in Southern Africa now have a special advisory group of snakebite authorities to help manage snake bite emergencies.
Launched on October 17 in commemoration of World Trauma Day, the National Snake bite Advisory Group (NSAG) offers a free national advisory support service to medical personnel, clinicians and centres in both the public and private sector who may need to treat snake bite victims, says trauma surgeon Dr Tim Hardcastle, a member of NSAG and a member of the Trauma Society of South Africa.
Thea Litshka-Koen from Swaziland came up with the idea of NSAG after a number of deaths occurred from snakebites there.
“The group has been established with the express aim of assisting in reducing morbidity and mortality from snake bites in Southern Africa. We wanted to make sure that medical practitioners throughout the region have access to, and can be appropriately assisted by this superb resource of national and international experts,” adds Dr Hardcastle.
The group includes medical and trauma practitioners who are highly experienced in snake bite treatment, as well as anti-venom and snake handling experts.
“The members of the group are in constant contact, which enables us to exchange knowledge and expertise on an ongoing basis.
“They also have considerable knowledge about the snakes within their local regions, which is important as different kinds of snakes and snake bites are more common in some areas than others,” said Dr Hardcastle.
“For various reasons, snake bites are one of the most difficult and specialised areas of medicine and as some of our medical centres in South Africa see relatively few snake bite cases, there is sometimes an uncertainty about the best course of action and treatment when a patient does present after having been bitten.
This may include, for example, whether anti-venom is appropriate to administer and, if so, in what quantity.
“Bites from venomous snakes require the most urgent and appropriate treatment. There are, however, numerous factors involved when considering a snake bite, and those who are not experienced in the treatment of certain kinds of snake bites may feel uncertain about the most appropriate course of action to take.”
Dr Hardcastle explains that among the numerous aspects to consider include what type of snake was involved, whether the snake bite punctured the skin; whether anti-venom treatment is appropriate under the circumstance; the risk of a bite resulting in anaphylactic shock; the best approach to the patient’s wound care, and so on.
He points out that while the NSAG service is only directly available to healthcare practitioners and facilities, there are a number of resources available to the public. These include the Cape Town Poison Centre and the African Snakebite Institute, which offers a special information app from their website. Tygerberg Hospital Poison Information Centre and the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital Poison Information Centre have combined their strengths to form the Cape Town Poison Centre, a 24-hour service linked to the hospitals’ emergency services, which can be contacted at 0861 555 777.
For snake removals go to www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snakebite for a fuller list.