Snake bite warning issued to walkers in countryside

Poisons experts are advising people planning country and woodland walks this summer how to reduce their risk of a snake bite. Adder in picture.
Poisons experts are advising people planning country and woodland walks this summer how to reduce their risk of a snake bite. Adder in picture.

Poisons experts are advising people planning country and woodland walks in the Borders this summer how to reduce the risk of a snake bite.

The Health Protection Agency’s specially-commissioned national poisons information service is the poisons advisory body for frontline medics. And between 2009-11, the service was asked for help 196 times after patients were bitten by adders.

Adders are the only venomous snakes living wild in the UK, and about half of the bites NPIS were alerted to occurred after a snake was picked up. So as the holiday season approaches NPIS, is urging anyone planning on spending time outdoors this summer to take care, respect any wildlife they come across and to leave snakes alone.

Professor Simon Thomas, director of NPIS Newcastle, said: “They usually keep well out of sight, but in the summer months are active because the weather is warmer. Because they are well camouflaged people can accidentally tread on them, which is when they can bite. They can also bite if picked up.

“The bite can have very nasty effects, especially in smaller children – so it’s best to take care when out walking, wear appropriate footwear for the terrain and do not handle any snakes.

“Snake bites do not always lead to the injection of venom into the wound. When no venom is released there is always a risk the wound may become infected but the anxiety caused to the patient is often the greatest health concern.

“When an adder bite does deliver venom it can cause local pain, tenderness, swelling and bruising which can spread. If a child is bitten, effects may be seen across the whole body.”

Professor Thomas added: “Although almost all poisonings from adder bites produce relatively minor effects the illnesses they lead to can be extremely unpleasant.

“It’s worth remembering that the effects from these bites can be much more serious, though this is rare.

“Our advice is simply to do what you can to minimise your exposure. Do go out and enjoy the countryside. That’s really important. But if you are going somewhere with large areas of open space, just think about what you’re doing and most importantly of all, if you come across an adder, or indeed any snake or reptile, give it the respect it deserves as a wild animal and leave it alone.”

Anyone bitten by a snake should seek urgent medical attention.