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Much of this information has been drawn from David Britow's Best Walks of the Drakensberg, 2003, Struik Publishers, Cape Town (by kind permission of the author and publishers). This is tremendous and highly useful reading for any avid Drakensberg hiker and can be found in bookstores, Getaway magazine or www.struik.co.za (this will open in a new window).


Treatment for snakebite is controversial, but the golden rule is to do nothing - especially if you are not sure what to do, or what species of snake is involved. If possible one person should go for help. Then treat the victim symptomatically, which means addressing problems, like difficult breathing, loss of sight or the use of a limb, as they occur. Mainly, you must keep the victim alive and breathing and reduce shock as best you can. Keep them warm and hydrated, but never with alcohol. If you decide to carry anti-venom serum, consider taking anti-histamine and cortisone as a general treatment for all types of poisonous bite (to stem the body's reaction). Only administer a serum it you are certain of the species and you know which serum to use. For example: adders are usually haemotoxic, in that the venom works slowly on the blood and body tissue. Cobras and mambas (not found in the Berg) are neurotoxic in that the poison affects the nervous system and within a few hours prevents the muscles working properly (hindered breathing is the most
serious consequence). Unlike their relatives, berg adders have a prevalence of neurotoxins - give a person with a berg adder bite a dose of haemotoxin serum and he gets a double whammy of poison. Avoid all tourniquets, as they just speed up tissue damage, and forget about cutting wounds and sucking: all you do is give the victim an extra wound. Electric shock to the site of the bite seems to be extremely effective, but who carries a car battery in their pack, let alone a set of jumper leads?

One of the most likely snake mishaps to terminate a holiday is a bite from a puff adder - sluggish beasts that don't like moving off sunny paths, or being trodden on. A bite from one of these chaps is very serious. The bite victim needs to get medical attention, but you do have some time - more than many people would think: a minimum of several hours and often as much as 24 hours before serious effects take hold, depending on the variables. If you're deep in the Berg, you will somehow have to get the patient out of there with the least possible physical stress. Stress causes the toxins to flow more quickly through the body, speeding up the toxic effects especially in the case of a cobra or berg adder bite. The latter is not potentially lethal but can quickly render the victim immobile. If you cannot get the victim to help, you will have to go and fetch it.
Another is a rinkhals encounter. This is one of the spitting cobras and you are more likely to be spat at than bitten. If you do get venom in your eyes, wash them out with water (urine or any liquid will do if you can't get water soon). If it's a bite, get help as fast as you can.

Click here to see a pic of a puff adder and a rinkhals - opens in a new window.

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