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What to do if you get bitten by a snake in Hong Kong

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Following a bite incident on Lantau earlier this week, government snake catcher William Sargent shares his advice on what to do if you come face to face with one of Hong Kong’s scaly residents.

As is the case with the vast majority of bites, this latest incident happened when a lady accidentally stepped on a snake in the dark. Describing the snake, she said that it appeared to be orange but thought that it “looked like the red neck keelback.”

The lady sought medical assistance at North Lantau Hospital, where, as a precaution, staff treated the case as a potential venomous snake bite, as the patient was unable to provide a conclusive description. Happily the lady is fine and was released from hospital a few hours later with just a small bite mark, but the incident left her understandably shaken.

Whilst many people are nervous about snakes in Hong Kong, William says that a lot of anxiety can be avoided with simple education on the subject. Here’s what you need to know…

What should you do if you are bitten by a snake?

First of all, try not to panic. It’s important that hospital staff know what type of snake it is so that they can administer the appropriate treatment. So, while you should try and calmly move away from the snake, if you are able to get a glance at it, that will help. Whatever type of snake it is, it’s important that you seek assistance and make your way to the nearest A&E department as soon as you can.

How common is it to get bitten?

Snake bites in Hong Kong are rare and the number has dropped considerably in recent years.There used to be around 300 bites a year in the ’90s. That number has come down to less than 150 now, as Hong Kong’s economy has become less agriculture based. The majority happen at night, in rural areas or on trails, when people don’t see them and end up stepping on them.

What can I do to avoid getting bitten?

It sounds obvious, but look where you are going, particularly at night and in rural areas, and pay attention to where you put your hands and feet. Most bites in Hong Kong involve bamboo snakes, who prefer to hide in the bushes, in the hope that you won’t come near them. Snakes will only bite defensively, so if you don’t bother them, they’re unlikely to bother you.

How dangerous are snakes in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has some very toxic snakes, however it’s important to bear in mind that there is a difference between danger and toxicity. The vast majority of snake bites come from the bamboo viper due to their behaviour, proximity and occurrence. Although this, and other snakes pose a threat to the public, the last death caused by a snake here was over 20 years ago, and treatment has come a long way. Hong Kong has world-class treatment for bites. Even in the case of highly toxic snakes, treatment is extremely effective.

If you are interested to find out more about snakes in Hong Kong, William runs a number of snake talks every summer. For enquiries, please contact him directly at [email protected]. You can also learn more about Hong Kong’s snake population by joining the Hong Kong Snakes Facebook group.

Photo by Terry Chow

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