Snake serum: antivenom shortage

A lack of snake antivenom at regional medical centres could leave tourists and bushwalkers in a perilous situation, according to Tasmania's main reptile rescue organisation.

Reptile Rescue ranger Bruce Press said the lack of access to antivenom in regional areas was particularly dangerous as visitors to the state and possibly many locals do not realise they can only get full bite treatment in Launceston or Hobart.

"If a bushwalker is out in the bush then they'll probably have to travel many kilometres just to get back into a town, only to then be told to go on to Hobart or Launceston," said Mr Press, who recovers snakes from an area spanning Buckland to Bicheno.

"All the snakes here in Tasmania are dangerous and their venom can kill a human."

His plea comes just days after a South Australian bushwalker was bitten by a snake at George Point, south of Strahan, and rescued by a passing fishing crew before being conveyed to Royal Hobart Hospital.

The man was released from hospital on Saturday.

Mr Press said at the request of a local doctor he had bought antivenom, which he stored at Swansea's Mary Shaw Health Centre.

He said the doctor was not able to get it due to the state government's withdrawal of funding for antivenom within the past two years.

The antivenom personally cost him $300 and believes it is a small price for the state government to pay to ensure people's safety.

someone else does," said Mr Press, who was bitten two years ago by a white-lipped whip snake.

Mr Press said Swansea was one of the state's most dangerous areas for snakes due to its terrain and access to water.

Since just before Christmas he has caught 13 snakes.

In 2010 he caught a total of 36 snakes, in 2009, 24 and in 2008, 14.

He expects 2011 figures to be on par with last year.

He said the past seasons of drought followed by good rains had seen extensive grass growth that had led to a high number of mice and frogs in the Swansea area this year - both good food sources for snakes.

Mr Press said two children bitten by snakes at Swansea at the end of 2010 were extremely lucky to have only suffered insignificant bites.

One child was bitten on their boot, while the other received a dry bite, inflicting no venom, on the hand.

Reptile Rescue's chief executive officer Ian Norton said there was certainly a case for antivenom being held at regional facilities.

"If first aid is applied vigorously and effectively then the projected time to get someone to hospital is good but if they don't know what to do, and in most cases people don't, and panic sets in, then it can be a different situation," Mr Norton said.

Undertaking a snake demonstration in Hobart on Saturday, the Launceston City Council alderman said he was shocked more people had not died from bites due to their lack of knowledge of basic first aid.

He said by 1.30pm on Saturday, the organisation had already received 17 callouts for assistance.

Reptile Rescue responded to about 1600 callouts last year and with the number so far around Hobart and in the north of the state, this is expected to climb to 1700.

Medical integration office director Dr George Cerchez said the recommendation to withdraw (anti) snake bite venom from small rural clinics was done in the interest of patient safety and quality.

"The recommendation has come from the chief medical officer of the Royal Hobart Hospital and has been agreed to by emergency specialist(s) around the state," Dr Cerchez said.

"The risk of sudden death and complications after administering anti snake bite venom without proper monitoring by an equipped laboratory is greater for the patient.

"Modern first aid measure of immobilising with appropriate bandaging and transport to a major hospital leads to a much better patient outcome."

Reptile Rescue's number is 0407 565 181.

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