A girl killed by a brown snake in Far North NSW did not know she had been bitten until several hours later when she was almost comatose, the shire’s deputy mayor says.
The six-year-old girl died on Saturday after being bitten on a property outside Walgett on Friday, prompting emergency services to issue a state-wide warning.
She was taken to Walgett Hospital, where doctors administered anti-venom, about 3pm on Friday.
She was then flown to the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, where she was placed on life support.
After her condition deteriorated significantly, she was transferred back to Walgett Hospital, where she died.
Walgett Shire deputy mayor Jane Keir, a registered nurse for more than 40 years, said she believed the girl did not see the snake and did not know that she had been bitten until several hours later.
By the time her family took her to Walgett Hospital, it was a “pretty drastic case” and there was probably little that could have been done, she said.
“I believe the family didn’t know she’d been bitten and, by the time they’d realised, she was comatose,” Cr Keir said.
“The little girl could have been on the edge of Sydney and the result would have been the same.”
Cr Keir said she believed the girl trod on the snake while outside on her family’s property, about 25 kilometres from the Walgett township.
She was suffocating by the time she was admitted to hospital and the family wasn’t able to identify what snake bit her because no one saw it, Cr Keir said.
Eastern brown snakes cause more deaths than any other species of snake in Australia and victims often don’t realise they have been bitten.
The initial bite is generally painless and often difficult to detect, the Australian Museum says.
Many bites are caused by people trying to kill or move them or accidentally treading on inactive snakes that are sheltering beneath logs, rocks or man-made covers such as sheets of iron or building material.
The snakes react defensively and viciously if surprised or cornered. They typically have small fangs but extremely potent venom that can cause progressive paralysis and uncontrollable bleeding that can spread to the brain.
NSW Ambulance and NSW Police have issued a reminder to people to be wary of snakes in warmer months.
Tips from NSW Ambulance include:
• If you are bitten by a snake, ensure someone calls triple zero immediately.
• Until help arrives, if the bite is on a limb, apply a pressure immobilisation bandage but not so tight that it will cut off circulation.
• If the bite is not on a limb, apply direct and firm pressure to the bite site with your hands (it is also important the patient is kept still).
• Check items of clothing that have been left outside before wearing them and if you lift something such as a rock or log, lift the object so it’s facing away from you.
Numbers of eastern brown snakes have proliferated over the years due to large-scale land clearing, which provides a ready supply of rodents for the snakes to feed on, the Australian Museum says.
They are most commonly found in scrublands, rural areas that have been heavily modified for agriculture and on the suburban outskirts of large towns and cities across eastern Australia.
Joy Adams, general manager for the northern sector of the Western NSW Local Health District, said the health district and the Walgett Multipurpose Service extended their condolences to the girl’s family.
“We can confirm that appropriate treatment and care was provided, including the administration of anti-venom, and that the patient was transferred to [Randwick] by air ambulance and then returned to Walgett.”
Chief Inspector Tony Mureau, from Walgett police station, said fatal snake bites in the area were extremely rare.
Cr Keir said some staff at Walgett Hospital who treated the girl knew her family.
“It is very, very tough. This would have been devastating for the staff,” she said. “It’s a tragedy and something that would have been very, very difficult to avoid the end result.”