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