Don’t let the thought of spiders and snakes put you off bushwalking. Bushwalking is a relatively safe activity when you take adequate precautions.
Wear long sleeved shirts and long trousers in problem areas to prevent insect bites, particularly at dawn and dusk.
Ross River Fever and Barmah Forest Fever are transmitted by mosquito bites. This is not only a tropical problem, as these diseases have been detected in mosquitoes in suburban Sydney along the Georges River.
Use a DEET or Picaridin based insect repellent to prevent stings from mosquitoes and other flying insects. Apply a soothing insect bite cream to relieve the itch.
For bee, wasp and ant bites apply an ice pack, or frozen drink bottle from your lunch box, for 15 minutes to reduce the pain.
Be prepared if you are allergic to any insect bite, and carry antihistamines if your reaction is mild, or an Epipen if your reaction is serious.
Wear long sleeve shirt, long pants and a hat in tick prone areas. Light-coloured clothing allows you to see ticks more easily. After a walk examine your head and body for ticks.
Do not try to kill the tick with methylated spirits or any other chemicals, or the tick will inject more toxins.
The current advice from the Sydney University Department of Medical Entomology is to spray the tick with an aerosol insect repellent preferably containing pyrethrin or a pyrethroid. If this is unavailable use Lyclear, a scabies cream containing permethrin. The combination of hydrocarbons and the pyrethrin acts as a narcotic and a toxicant, and prevents the tick from injecting its saliva. The tick should be sprayed again one minute later (or dabbed with the Lyclear) and left. After 24 hours it should drop off naturally or be gently removed with fine-tipped forceps.
It is normal for a tick bite to remain slightly itchy for several weeks, however if other symptoms develop, then consult a doctor immediately.
For more information on ticks The Australian Association of Bush Regenerators has recently published a comprehensive review of ticks and treatment.
Leeches won’t harm you in most cases, but can be unpleasant, as the bite wound bleeds due to the injection of anti-coagulants. If bitten, wash the bite area to prevent infection. Use insect repellent to repel them. Some rare individuals can have an anaphylactic reaction – this requires urgent medical attention (ring 000 for an ambulance).
Don’t worry about spider bites as it is rare for a bushwalker to be bitten by a spider. However you should know what to do if bitten.
If a member of your bushwalking group is bitten by a Funnel-web spider don’t panic. Lay the victim on the ground. Use two compression bandages to firmly wrap the full length of the arm or leg that has been bitten, not just the area of the bite. Monitor the victim’s breathing and pulse.
Ring triple zero for an ambulance. If you are out of mobile range set off the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The victim should not attempt to walk out, as this speeds the spread of the venom through the bloodstream.
If someone is bitten by a Red-back spider apply a cold pack, or frozen drink bottle from your lunch box, to reduce the pain. If you don’t have a cold pack, compress the area to reduce pain.
For all other spider bites wash the area, preferably with soap and water. Apply a cold pack or compress the area to reduce pain.
Seek medical help immediately for all spider bites.
Don’t attempt to catch the spider. Hospitals have venom identification kits to assist in using the correct anti-venom.
For more information on treatment of spider bites, see this article from Australian Prescriber.
If a snake hears you coming it will usually slither into the bush, but occasionally you will see a snake sunning itself in the middle of the path. Don’t attempt to move the snake but give it a wide berth. Don’t walk through long grass in summer. You risk surprising a snake or even stepping on it.
If a member of your bushwalking group is bitten by a snake don’t panic. Lay the victim on the ground immediately and ask them not to move, as moving around or walking will hasten the spread of the venom in their system. Use two compression bandages to firmly wrap the full length of the arm or leg that has been bitten, not just the area of the bite. Use a pen to mark the location of the bite on the bandage. Monitor the victim’s breathing and pulse.
Ring triple zero for an ambulance. If you are out of mobile range set off the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Do not delay calling for help, even if the victim initially seems to be fine.
The victim should not attempt to walk out, as this speeds the spread of the venom through the bloodstream.
Don’t attempt to catch the snake. Hospitals have venom identification kits to assist in using the correct anti-venom.
For information on Australian snakes and treatment for bites, see the Sydney University medical site. Note that treatment for snake bites in Australia is quite different to treatment in other parts of the world. In particular, do not cut the wound, suck out the poison, or apply a tourniquet .
Lizards are wild animals. Often walkers assume that because a goanna is standing still it is not afraid of you and it is OK to inch towards the animal to get the perfect photo. A still lizard is actually sending a warning message that if you come closer it will attack. If you are bitten you risk a very painful bite and infection from the bacteria in their teeth. Many people do not realise that goannas have venom glands. You may also be envenomed when bitten.
Never attempt to approach or feed wild animals. It is bad for their health and may be bad for yours if they bite or attack.
If walking in the Top End of Queensland or the Northern Territory do not ignore the crocodile signs. In some areas of Kakadu National Park, park rangers inspect specific water holes for crocodiles prior to the season opening. If the park rangers advise it is safe you may swim in these designated areas only. In all other circumstances do not swim in water holes or camp near creeks and rivers. Do not allow children or dogs near the water. You will not see the crocodile until it is too late.
If travelling overseas on a walking holiday, never approach deer, bison, monkeys or other wildlife. Don’t try to get close for a photo. Use a telephoto lens instead. Wild animals are indeed wild and an attack could be deadly. Additionally, they may transmit rabies or other nasty diseases.