SNAKEBITE DEATHS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
A six year old girl from near Walgett, NSW died after believed bitten on 5th Feb 2016. No one was initially aware she had taken a bite. The message here is that brownsnake bites are most often painless and suspected in 38 of past 59 snakebite deaths! The smallest individual involved in a death was 18cm when a 27 yr old 39-week pregnant woman on 29 January 1982 is believed to have succumbed after 90 minutes to a bite on the heel. The initial cause of death was attributed to supine hypotensive syndrome of pregnancy.
The following 16 deaths in WA could have resulted from snakebite envenomation (11 from treading on snake and 5 from handling snake) -
Cervantes - 04 Oct 1986: female, 61 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Bitten 3pm on lower leg. No first aid applied. Walked a considerable distance after bite. Died 4.30pm.
Carnarvon 24 April 1989: female, 33 months. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni) Unwitnessed bite to lower leg, therefore no first aid applied. Snakebite determined as cause during autopsy.
Derby 24 Feb 1993: male, 31 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Unwitnessed. Snake in bucket, victim found unconscious with head injuries. Assumed to have been bitten resulting in a fall. Antivenom administered at Derby Hospital but with no improvement patient air-ambulanced to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital where he died. Although in the literature as death from snakebite, personal communications with medical scientists involved suggest inconclusive evidence for confirmation as such.
Spearwood (Perth) 01 Nov 1993: female, 72 years. Spotted Brown Snake or Dugite (Pseudonaja a. affinis). Felt sick while hanging out washing and queried whether a snake sighted a half hour earlier may have bitten her. Died 22 hours later from cerebral haemorrhage.
Fitzroy area 06 Feb 1994: male, 2 years. Northern Death Adder (Acanthophis cryptamydros). Child believed to have trod on snake at night although bite not witnessed. Died 3 hours later. Snakebite determined by autopsy.
Tarmoola [Gold Mine], North of Leonora 04 Dec 1997: male, 33 years (Murray Plane). Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Man inebriated and handling snake that he and friends found in miners' quarters during the night of 1 Dec. Signs of multiple bites on hands. No immediate first aid. Air-ambulanced to Royal Perth Hospital where he subsequently died on 4 Dec. - determined to be deceased while on ventilator.
Broome Region 31 Oct 1998: male, 9 years. Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus). Lad believed to have trod on snake in the early morning although bite not witnessed. Died in vehicle while being transported from Bidyadanga community to Broome Hospital, 180 kilometres north.
High Wycombe (Perth) 05 Nov 1998: male, 14 years, 11 months. Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus). Lad bitten on left hand while photographing/filming snake on afternoon of 3 Nov. No immediate effective first aid for hypersensitivity. Extremely rapid collapse possibly related to an anaphylactic episode. Heart stopped in ambulance, defibrillation required to restart. Both polyvalent and specific antivenom administered. Determined to be deceased while on ventilator.
Broome Rifle Club 29 Nov 1999: male, 35 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Snake caught by caretaker on the afternoon of 27 Nov. and was bitten while showing his son the snake being placed in a bag. Received 4 ampoules of Brown Snake antivenom in Broome Regional Hospital shortly after, before being air-ambulanced to Royal Perth Hospital. Determined to be deceased while on ventilator.
Carnarvon 15 Jan 2009: female, 60 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Treated in Carnarvon Hospital, but deteriorated rapidly.
Gingin 26 Nov 2010: male, 43 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni) less than 42cm in length. Treated at Joondalup Medical Campus - originally thought to be tiger snake (Notechis scutatus). Bitten on toe while in house on computer. No immediate first aid. Note: Small brown snakes have been involved in several deaths, with the smallest individual documented involving an 18cm specimen implicated in the 1982 death of a 27 yr old female in Western NSW.
Laverton 08 Oct 2014: male, 41 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Grabbed snake while trying to kill it - bitten multiple times on hand and arm. Refused first aid - collapsed 45 minutes later.
Fremantle (South Beach) 15 August 2015: female. 75 years (Anne Wortham). On location (coastal), assumed to be Spotted Brown Snake or Dugite (Pseudonaja a. affinis). Bitten on heel mid-afternoon while walking alone, walked home and collapsed when husband taking her to car to transport her to hospital. Ambulance called, arriving five minutes later, but medics were unable to revive her.
Meekatharra 05 February 2018: female. 27 years (Sinita Martin). Based on location, assumed here to be Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Believed bitten at night in yard. 31 weeks pregnant. When St John Ambulance officers arrived about 20.45 victin had arrested.
Koorda 09 October 2018: female. 83 years (Mary Nicholls). On location and also on lack of pain at time of bite, assumed to be Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni). Bitten just below the ankle while pushing wheelbarrow in morning. She told her son shortly after that she saw the snake and felt it touch her foot but didn't believe she had been bitten. Bandage applied to bite site and driven to Wyalkatchem Hospital before being transported to Perth by RFDS, but her condition deteriorated quickly.
Champion Lakes, Perth 17 March 2019: male. 41 years (Nathan Scattini). Based on location, assumed here to be Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus). Rang St John Ambulance about 18.40 after he was bitten, although unable to advise of his location and his body not found until Tue 19 March.
©Brian Bush 2019 - www.wa-snakes.com.au
Sutherland, S.K. 1992. Deaths from snake bite in Australia, 1981-1991. Med. J. Aust. 157: 740-745.
Sutherland, S.K. & Leonard, R.L. 1995. Snakebite deaths in Australia 1992-1994 and a management update. Med. J. Aust. 163: 616-618.