IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Read This First
All Sea 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.
DO NOT WAIT!
Call 911 (within the US) or your local emergency number immediately, if you experienced a Sea Snake Bite.
What is Sea Snake Bite?
- The sea snake is a venomous aquatic-dwelling snake that feeds on fish and other small marine creatures. The snake is normally docile and may become aggressive when attacked or during mating season
- Sea snakes are typically found in the coastal areas and islands around the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Java Sea, China Sea, Yellow Sea, Philippine Sea, Timor Sea, Tasman Sea, and across the Pacific Ocean
Sea Snake Bites usually take place unintentionally or inadvertently, when individuals come in contact with venomous sea snakes.
What are the Causes of Sea Snake Bite?
The most common causes of Sea Snake Bites include (but not limited to):
- Residing near coastal regions and river mouths
- Occupational hazard: Fishermen and fisherwomen, while sorting fish, setting out fishing nets, pulling in the ‘catch’
- Swimmers, surfers, divers, and beachgoers are prone to a higher risk in the endemic areas
- Wading in ocean waters without suitable protective clothing
- Walking barefoot on the beach or in shallow sea waters
- Amateur and scientific marine life explorers who come into contact with sea snakes
- Keeping them as pets in aquaria
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sea Snake Bite?
The signs and symptoms of Sea Snake Bites depend on the age (whether child or adult), body weight, and overall health status of the individual (whether having an underlying condition or illness). Also, the signs and symptoms vary according to the potency of the snake and amount of venom injected.
The signs and symptoms of a Sea Snake Bite can vary from one individual to another and may be mild or severe. It may initially include (within the first few hours):
- Minimal to no pain at the bite site, including the absence of any swelling
- Bite or fang marks on the affected limb may be visible (the puncture marks on skin may be one, two, or more)
- Muscle stiffness and tenderness
- Fatigue and weak muscles
- Body aches and muscle aches; joint pain
- Anxiety and drowsiness
- Blurred vision
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Thickening of tongue
It is important to note that the following three are the most commonly observed symptoms of envenomation by sea snakes (generally observed within 30-120 minutes of sea snake bite):
- Droopy eyelids or ptosis
- Swallowing difficulties or dysphagia
- Flaccid paralysis (that involves poor muscle tone)
The following may be observed after 4-8 hours of the Sea Snake Bite:
- Poor reflexes
- Breathing difficulties
- Speaking difficulties; difficulty in opening one’s mouth
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Dark-colored urine
How is First Aid administered for Sea Snake Bite?
If a Sea Snake Bite (or sting or bite of a marine creature) 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.
Until medical help arrives:
- Remove the individual from the water; move him/her away from water (incident spot)
- 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 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 marine 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 any jewelry, such as bangles, bracelets, wrist watches, and rings, from the limb that is involved 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
- 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
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 Sea 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
Sea snake bites are generally painless (initially), may barely show any local swelling, and may go unnoticed by the victims. Nevertheless, for all cases involving actual or suspected sea snake bites, it is very important to immediately seek the advice, evaluation, and treatment of a qualified healthcare provider.
What is the Prognosis of Sea Snake Bite?
The prognosis of Sea Snake Bite is usually dependent on the following set of factors:
- The potency and nature of venom (whether hemotoxic, cytotoxic, or neurotoxic), which is related to the type of sea snake
- 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 Sea Snake Bites have been reported.
How can Sea Snake Bite be Prevented?
A few helpful tips to prevent Sea Snake Bites include:
- Avoid touching or handling marine animals unnecessarily, especially sea snakes; in many cases, it is also difficult to distinguish between the head and tail of a sea snake (since they may look the same)
- Educating fishing community about sea snakes, including on techniques to handle sea snakes entangled in nets, particularly in the endemic regions
- Generally be aware and watchful of the waters you are in (seas, rivers, freshwater lakes, etc.)
- Wear protective clothing if you plan to swim or dive in infested areas
- If possible, try to move or swim away from areas where sea snakes are spotted
- Do not ignore warnings of lifeguards or health officials at the beach
- Do not probe into dark recesses and crevices of sea floors with your bare hands
- Wear protective footwear while walking on beach sand
- Ensure safety precautions while cleaning marine animal aquariums
- Marine life study researchers and explorers are requested to carry marine first aid kits
What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?
All sea 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 water
- Call your local emergency helpline number (or 911 within the US) for help
- When in doubt, wash the affected area with seawater and not freshwater
- 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