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Snake Bite Kit

By: Patricia Egan, Category: Science, Date: 25 Aug 2016

One of the risks faced by scientists looking for reptiles is being bitten by a venonmous snake.

Snake Bite Kit

Snake Bite Kit
Photographer: Australian Museum © Australian Museum

Before the development of anti-venom, Dr Hal Cogger, an Australian Museum herpetologist, recalls scientists carrying snake bite kits as part of their equipment. If bitten, the standard treatment was to apply a ligature, lance the bite area and then rub potassium permanganate (Condy’s crystals) into the wound. Of course these kits had to be compact so they could be carried in a pocket and hence easily accessable. 

Looking at the picture of this kit, purchased in the 1950s by Dr Cogger, we see a ligature strap as well as a metal tube that holds both the Condy’s crystals and a very scalpel-sharp blade intended for slashing the skin around the bite site. In fact it was quite an upmarket kit as many other kits did not include a sophisticated tourniquet nor such a robust container for the blade.

Of course not only scientists were vulnerable to being bitten, so many suburban and country pharmacies stocked and marketed similar kits despite the development of anti-venoms. Whilst the first anti-venom, for tiger snake bites, was produced in Australia from 1930 it was the development other specific anti-venoms, which culminated in the polyvalent anti-venom in 1962, along with enhanced medical knowledge that made the snake bite kits redundant.

As comforting as these kits were they have been shown to be almost entirely ineffective although probably far less painful or dangerous than the strychnine kit and chloride of lime kits used in the late 1800s.