Bites and stings by venomous animals constitute emergencies. Without fast, competent treatment they can result in considerable injury and are sometimes fatal.
There are about 2,300 kinds of snakes in the world, classified into 13 families, five of which are venomous. In Israel, three of the venomous families are extremely prevalent, and represent eight different species: Israeli viper, viper, horned viper, burrowing asp, black adder, large Sahara sand viper, small Sahara sand viper and Palestinian viper.
The bites of the Israeli viper, viper and burrowing asp are the most consequential, both in terms of the number of occurrences and severity. In the last year there have been two reports of viper bites in Israel.
Snake bites from the viperous family (asps, adders and vipers) cause local symptoms of extreme pain and swelling at the site of the bite, and systemic symptoms such as lowered blood pressure, swelling in the respiratory tracts, and trouble with blood coagulation. The severity of the venom poisoning depends on several factors such as the amount of venom released in the bite. In about 25% of venomous snake bites, no venom is released.
The first aid treatment recommended for any snake bite is simple: have the person lie down; remain perfectly still; calm them down; immobilize the affected limb and keep it lower than the heart; get the victim to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.
If there is a doctor or paramedic present, they can also give medication to help sedate the victim and alleviate the pain, and even hook them up to an intravenous drip. In any case it is crucial to get the victim to a hospital immediately.
There are many popular superstitions about treating snakebites, none of which work, and all of which are extremely dangerous. These include: cutting the skin around the bite, sucking out the venom, freezing or burning the bite area, pouring hot liquids or alcoholic liquids (an action which actually increases the flow of the venom through the victim’s blood).
Treatment is based on symptoms—and the doctors make the decision if they need to administer an anti-venon serum. The serum is given usually when there is a fast and violent onset of symptoms, or evidence of systemic symptoms.
There is an antivenon for venom of the Israeli viper and viper, but not for the burrowing asp.
Scorpions are venomous insects belonging to the arthropod family. There are about 1000 known types of scorpions in the world. Twenty-one kinds are prevalent in Israel, but only five belong to a poisonous family.
The most dangerous species of scorpions:
- Yellow scorpion - the most dangerous of all scorpions of Israel, these are prevalent in most parts of the country.
- Southern scorpion - this scorpion is found in northern Africa and in the southern Sinai.
- Tunisian fat-tail scorpion - prevalent in the all areas of Israel, its sting is almost as bad as the sting of the yellow scorpion.
Scorpions who are less dangerous:
- Black Fat-Tail Scorpion - found mainly in central Israel and in the south.
- Bi-Color Scorpion - found in region between the sandy coastal plain to the Negev and also in the Sinai.
- Black Judea Scorpion - prevalent in the country from Beit Guvrin to the northern border. This scorpion is less dangerous than those previously mentioned.
The venom of the scorpion effects the nervous system, heart and blood vessels. The sting itself is very painful, and when a lot of venom is injected, its effect on the body will be quickly noticeable. The reaction to the venom is restlessness, muscle cramps, lots of sweating and tearing of the eyes, faster pulse rate, and increasing damage to the heart which can lead to possible heart failure.
Treating a scorpion sting is similar to treating a snake bite—calming the victim, immobilizing the affected limb, and quick transport to a hospital. It is also advisable to put some ice on the sting, which will alleviate the pain, and slow the progress of the venom.
In the Emergency Room the victim is treated based on his symptoms, and when the sting is serious, antivenon is administered. Generally, the physicians will keep the victim under observation for six to eight hours.
As in the case of snakes, the best thing to do is prevent the sting in the first place.
- Be very careful when approaching places where venomous animals like to hide, such as underbrush, inside corners of buildings, and piles of wood or stones.
- Avoid putting your hands in these places, and if you need to move a pile of wood or stones, use a rod or pole to shift the materials before picking them up.
- When camping, take great care when you wake up, check the tent and the sleeping bag, and shake clothes and shoes (outside the tent) before putting them on.
Spider bites most often occur when a spider becomes caught in clothes, and then the clothes are worn. Spiders do not go out of their way to bite, but only bite to defend themselves. We will examine only two here.
Brown Recluse Spider: This is a small brown spider with long legs. The bite itself in general is not felt at the time, and its affects felt only after several hours. The bite causes a mild injury at the site, but sometimes it developes into something serious, such as issues with blood coagulation. This toxic action is a result of the enzymes in the venom of the Brown Recluse. The bite is treated based on its symptoms, either with local treatments or more supportive treatment in cases of systemic involvement.
Black Widow Spider: This is not a painful bite, and often is not felt when it happens. The reaction to the bite usually develops within minutes, but can take up to several hours. The reaction is usually a painful and burning sensation in the area of the bite. As the venom spreads through the body the victim experiences cramping, restlessness and anxiety, muscle rigidity in the stomach. Advanced symptoms can affect major muscle groups in the chest, back and shoulders. Other symptoms include heavy sweating, high blood pressure, weakness in the legs. All of this usually last three or four days, but the patient will have weakness for several months after.
Treating of the bite will include treating symptoms with pain medication, muscle relaxants, etc. In the case of serious poisoning, an antivenon is administered.