Bites in Australian snake handlers-Australian snakebite project (ASP-15)

Geoffrey K. Isbister, S. G A Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Snakebites in snake handlers are an important clinical problem that may differ to bites in the general population. Aim: To investigate the epidemiology and clinical presentation of bites in snake handlers. Design: Prospective observational study. Methods: Bites in snake handlers recruited as part of the Australian Snakebite Project (ASP) from 2004 to 2011 were included in the study. Data were extracted from the ASP database, which included demographic and clinical information, laboratory tests and antivenom treatment. Results: From 1089 snake bites recruited to ASP, there were 106 (9.7%) bites in snake handlers. The median age was 40 years (range: 16-81 years) and 104 (98%) were males. The commonest circumstances of the bites were handling snakes (47), catching snakes (22), feeding snakes (18) and cleaning cages (11). Bites were to the upper limb in 103 cases. Bites were most commonly by Red-bellied black snakes (20), Brown snakes (17), Taipan (15), Tiger snakes (14) and Death adders (14). Envenoming occurred in 77 patients: venom-induced consumption coagulopathy in 45 patients (58%), neurotoxicity in 10 (13%) and myotoxicity in 13 (17%). Systemic hypersensitivity reactions (SHSRs) to venom occurred in eight, satisfying clinical criteria for anaphylaxis in five, of which three were hypotensive. Antivenom was administered in 60 envenomed patients. SHSRs to antivenom occurred in 15 (25%; 95% CI:15-38%), including 2 (3%:1-13%) with severe (hypotensive) reactions. Conclusion: Bites in snake handlers remain a common, important problem involving a broad range of snakes. Neurotoxicity and myotoxicity are relatively common, consistent with the snakes involved. Venom anaphylaxis occured, despite previously being a poorly recognized problem in snake handlers. The incidence of SHSRs to antivenoms, including anaphylaxis, was not higher than that observed in non-snake handlers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberhcs132
Pages (from-to)1089-1095
Number of pages7
JournalQJM: An International Journal of Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes

Cite this