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First Aid for Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite

Brain & Nerve
Bone, Muscle, & Joint
Contributed byKrish Tangella MD, MBADec 10, 2022


All Snake Bites should be evaluated by a trained medical professional, as early as possible. Failure to obtain prompt evaluation and appropriate treatment may result in severe complications and/or death.


Call 911 (within the US) or your local emergency number immediately, if you experienced a Snake Bite.

What is Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

  • The Central African gaboon viper is a highly venomous snake that is found in parts of Central and Southern Africa, mostly in tropical rainforests
  • The snake may average around 4-8 feet in length with a flat and heavy body, wide triangular-shaped head (with large fangs), and short tail. The body color is varied and may range from brown, purple, to cream with complex geometrical patterns
  • Typically, the snake is known to bite only when sufficiently provoked or threatened. However, before doing so, it may provide warning signs to any approaching intruders

Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bites usually take place unintentionally or inadvertently when individuals come into contact with this venomous snake.

What are the Causes of Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

The cause of Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite may include:

  • Residing in areas endemic to the snake
  • Hiking, trekking, or camping in snake habitat
  • Walking unprotected through forests, bushes, and grasslands; venturing outdoors during the night
  • Amateur study groups and scientific explorers who come in contact with the snake
  • Keeping them as pets
  • Picking up or handling the snakes
  • Alcoholics and drug addicts who come into contact with these snakes

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

The signs and symptoms of a Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite may depend on the quantity of venom injected. It can vary from one individual to another and may be mild or severe.

These may include an initial set of symptoms such as:

  • Severe pain at the bite site, including swelling
  • Bite or fang marks on the affected limb
  • Discoloration of skin and blistering
  • Bleeding from the bite site
  • Fatigue and weak muscles
  • Body aches
  • Twitching of eye and mouth
  • Chills and sweating
  • Anxiety and drowsiness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

The following signs and symptoms may be observed after several hours:

  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor reflexes
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Bleeding from the gums, nose, etc.
  • Tissue necrosis (tissue death)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Convulsions
  • Shock
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness

With severe venom injection, a host of systemic symptoms and complications that include cardiotoxicity, internal hemorrhaging, and respiratory distress may be noted that can even be fatal.

How is First Aid administered for Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

If a snake bite is suspected, it is always important to call your local emergency helpline number (or dial 911 in the US) without any delay, and provide as much information as possible, even if the individual does not have any symptoms. Also, call your local poison control center (US Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222) for further instructions.

Until medical help arrives:

  • Remove the individual from the incident spot; move away from the snake immediately
  • Also, move the individual to a shaded area, if he/she is lying exposed to the sun
  • Expose the bite site by removing or cutting the dress material, if necessary
  • Do not immerse the wound in water, but wash it gently with soap and water, if possible. A sterile dry bandage may be used to cover the wound
  • Avoid unnecessary movement (running or walking) and try to keep the victim as comfortable and warm as possible; stay with the victim until help arrives to provide reassurance
  • Make a note of the exact time of the incident and notify the emergency medical personnel accordingly
  • Try to identify or locate the reptile (only if safely possible) and keep the medical personnel informed; if possible, try to take a picture of the snake using one’s mobile phone
  • If the snake is dead, then try to carefully take the snake in a safe container to the healthcare center for identification
  • Use pressure bandage to immobilize the affected site or limb, such that blood circulation is not cut-off; the pressure immobilization technique should be attempted by trained personnel only
  • Remove constrictive clothing and any jewelry, such as bangles, bracelets, wrist watches, and rings, from the limb that is involved, especially before applying pressure immobilization
  • Further a splint (or stick) should be used to prevent the limb joints from bending
  • Avoid anything that can cause an obstruction in the airways
  • DO NOT give anything orally to the individual
  • Unless directed by the physician, DO NOT give any medication
  • Safely transport the affected individual to the nearest and appropriate healthcare facility (having expertise in snakebite treatment, if available)
  • Administer antivenom if available, and ONLY if a qualified healthcare provider is present

The following methods to help the victim SHOULD NOT be allowed or considered:

  • Shaking the affected arm or leg of the bitten individual
  • Forcing the individual to walk long distances (the victim should be carried, as far as possible)
  • Tying constricting bandages above the fang mark
  • Applying ice or pouring other liquids (alcohol) on the bite site
  • Applying heat packs or trying to burn the bite site (applying hot embers)
  • Immersion in hot water or oils
  • Cutting the wound in an attempt to wash away the venom
  • Sucking the bite wound, in an attempt to suck and spit out the venom; or, using any mechanical device to apply suction to the wound
  • Applying topical creams/ointments or any chemicals such as potassium permanganate
  • Giving tea, coffee, or any alcoholic beverages to the victim (water may be given to keep the individual hydrated, if required)
  • Administering ANY form of traditional treatments, use of herbal/native medicines, or other unapproved treatment measures

It is important to note that pressure immobilization bandaging is not the same as providing a tourniquet, which is essentially a constriction of the body part to control blood flow for a certain period of time.

Information on administering antivenom:

  • Administration of antivenom serum (AVS) should be allowed only when there are identifiable signs and symptoms of local and systemic envenomation along with supporting laboratory test evidence
  • At many health centers, the antidote to snake bite envenomation is scarcely available and usually very expensive; thus, it is important to not waste such a life-saving resource
  • Also, in many individuals, there is a high risk for severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, to the antivenom that may even be fatal
  • Consultation with a medical toxicologist is recommended for all cases requiring anti-snake venom administration

Any indiscriminate use of antivenom serum either due to improper training and knowledge or under compulsion from the victim’s family or friends is therefore highly discouraged. Nevertheless, a qualified healthcare provider is best-placed to determine whether the administration of AVS is necessary or not in each and every specific case.

Who should administer First Aid for Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

  • The individual himself/herself or someone nearby may begin administering basic First Aid
  • Call your local emergency helpline number or 911 (within the US) immediately

For all cases involving actual or suspected snake bites, it is very important to immediately seek the advice, evaluation, and treatment of a qualified healthcare provider.

What is the Prognosis of Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite?

The prognosis of Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite is usually dependent on the following set of factors:

  • Site of bite and the amount of toxin injected
  • Age and overall health status of the individual
  • Timely manner in which antivenom is administered
  • Severity of allergic reactions if any develop
  • Effectiveness of the treatment following admission

In many cases, with urgent first aid, prompt treatment and hospitalization of the victim, the prognosis is typically good. Without treatment or access to proper healthcare, deaths from severe systemic symptoms and complications from Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bites are commonly known to take place.

How can Central African Gaboon Viper Snake Bite be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent snake bites include:

  • Avoid unnecessary contact with any snake; if you spot a snake, try to keep a safe distance between yourself and the snake
  • Completely refrain from touching, provoking, or picking up any snake (even if it is dead)
  • Educate the local community about venomous snakes in the region
  • Be on the lookout for snakes while trekking, hiking, camping, or while traveling through snake-infested areas (forests, grasslands, thick bushes, even dry woodlands)
  • While walking through such areas, always stay on clear pathways and roads
  • Wear protective clothing such as boots, full length pants, and full-sleeved shirts, while exploring the woods and forestlands
  • Avoiding being outdoors at night in forested areas
  • Do not ignore the warnings on signboards or of forest/wildlife officials
  • Do not probe into dark recesses and crevices with your bare hands; check out for snakes concealed on tree branches or bushes before moving or holding them
  • Wildlife researchers and amateur explorers are requested to carry suitable first aid kits
  • Keep homes and surrounding areas clean and clear of rubbish or leafy piles, termite mounds, and even building materials
  • Teach and educate children about the dangers and importance of snakes

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

All snake bites should be considered as medical emergencies and accorded prompt attention with evaluation by trained medical professionals, as soon as possible, particularly in the first 4-8 hours.


  • Remove the victim immediately from the spot (prevent further bites)
  • Call your local emergency helpline number (or 911) for help
  • Clean the wound with mild soap and water
  • Immobilize the affected site (arm or leg)
  • Transport the victim without delay to an appropriate health center of care


  • Do not hesitate to call your emergency help services
  • Do not waste precious time attempting to catch or kill the snake for identification purposes
  • Do not medicate the individual, unless advised by a healthcare professional
  • Do not move the affected region of the body too much
  • Do not run or exercise which might increase the circulation of toxin in the body
  • Do not elevate the affected area above the heart level, since this can also increase circulation of the toxin
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Krish Tangella MD, MBA

Pathology, Medical Editorial Board, DoveMed Team


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