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How to treat bites or stings in the outback

By Ron Moon, 18 Apr 2020 Opinion

Outback animal bite and sting response feature

Animal bites and stings can be fatal when in the remote outback, our veteran outback traveler shares his experiences in unfortunate brushes with wildlife.

Normally getting bitten or stung by an insect like a bee or wasp is a minor inconvenience, and generally not life threatening, but they can be irritating and even painful. In some cases, if you are allergic to a particular bite or insect or get stung somewhere like the mouth, then it can have fatal consequences.

When Viv and I were driving across Russia a few years back and I poured Viv a G&T, a bee landed on the lemon in the drink and when Viv drank from the glass she was promptly stung on the lip. What happened next wasn’t very nice; she had an allergic reaction to the sting and her face blew up like a balloon.

We immediately administered a cold compress to the area, found some antihistamine medicine and then got the EpiPen out of Viv’s kit, which she always carries. Luckily we didn’t need it as much of the swelling subsided after about an hour or so, but Viv had a swollen face for well over three weeks (I’m under strict instructions not to have the photos printed!). Some people aren’t so lucky and if the bite or sting happens farther down the throat then it can quickly become a life-threatening episode.

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A number of years ago we were rafting the Murray River and somewhere above Tom Groggin homestead, in what is one of the remotest areas of the Victorian High Country, one of our gang was bitten by a ‘jumping jack’ ant. Until then he had no idea he was allergic to them. Anyway, he started to have breathing difficulties so we gave him a dose of antihistamine medicine and with nothing else to do we plunged him into the cold mountain stream and left him there for an hour so. He survived the ordeal and now carries a small survival kit with him whenever he is in the scrub.

More recently I picked up a tick, which hid in my belly button for a couple of weeks before I found him...or at least the doc found him. While all I got from my unwelcome visitor was a bit of pain and a burning sensation around the bite site, it never progressed any further than that. But sometimes ticks can cause much more serious issues including difficulty with breathing. And they can really knock the family pooch around something terrible!

Just recently, while we were down in Tassie, I was about to lay down and slide under the ol’ Patrol to place a jack in position when one of the crew noticed a small scorpion that had been upset by our moving of rocks, twigs and sticks. Now, unlike what you may have heard about scorpions in other countries, there have been no recorded deaths in Australia because of scorpion stings.

It also seems the most venomous ones are the smallest ones, and those that reside in the NT. Still, you can suffer from severe pain around the site of the sting for a number of hours while other side-effects may include redness, tenderness, numbness, nausea and headaches.

There are about 110 land-based snakes in Australia along with more than 30 sea snakes, and many of these are venomous and have the ability to cause moderate to severe symptoms from a single bite. All snake bites should be treated seriously and if you go bush you should know the first aid for a snake bite and have the gear to carry out the first aid. A good place to start is here.

So, do you have the right stuff and the skill to handle any bite or sting, or know what to do if somebody suffers from an allergic reaction from such a bite or sting?

Check out out the St John’s Ambulance website blog for the latest info on bites and stings.