South Africa

I just felt like I got zapped: Hikers describes lucky escape after puff adder bite

Durban - An uMhlanga marketing executive had a lucky escape with only a minor injury after a close encounter with a puff adder during a hike in the Drakensberg at the weekend.

Jon Oliff had a dry bite (a bite by a venomous snake where no venom is released) and said he was fortunate to have an array of emergency services working round the clock to get him medical care. He was discharged from hospital on Sunday.

“It was the most surreal experience. I am just in awe of how amazing everybody I encountered was to assist me and grateful to live in a place where there were so many dedicated professionals.”

Oliff was on a getaway at Bushman’s Nek, Drakensberg, with a group of friends when he was bitten.

“It was about halfway through our 10km hike, and I was the second person in line, when I just felt like I got zapped by something,” he told The Mercury.

Oliff said he almost laughed it off, because he felt the pain but didn’t even see what happened as they were in an overgrown path and he didn’t want to ruin the fun.

“The guy behind me said he saw the snake slither across the path and it looked aggressive and angry,” Oliff said.

When it was identified as a “short and fat puff adder”, Oliff stopped and checked his foot to find blood as the snake had punctured through his shoes, and one fang had punctured his foot.

“I was relatively ignorant about snake bites, but my friends got into gear and made some calls. My friend Anton walked back with me and advised me to keep calm and reassured me along the way.

“After about 2km I was relieved to see the horses with Ezemvelo rangers who came on the trail to fetch me,” he said.

Oliff said he had to ride a horse led by a park ranger and was then transported by the Underberg EMS ambulance.

He said while paramedics believed it was a dry bite they still took him to the Hilton Hospital.

“I’m grateful and fortunate it wasn’t more serious. I’m grateful knowing that you can be extracted within an hour if you are in an emergency,” he said.

Dr Alan Howard, an Underberg trauma and medical practitioner, who authored a book on emergency management of acute poisoning which includes snake bites, said in the context of the venomous snakes, puffadders were responsible for more loss of life and limb than any other snake in South Africa.

“It’s not that its venom is more deadly than other snakes, but rather because bites are far more common hence, statistically, more patients succumb.”

He said the “deadly duo” rinkhals and puff adders, were extremely prevalent in the Berg district this autumn following a wet summer.

Howard said he was aware of at least 15 problem puffadders and over 60 rinkhals that were captured and relocated this summer and autumn.

“The puffadder possesses a potent, cytotoxic (tissue destroying) venom, which it can deliver in large quantities via front fangs. Because it is a sluggish snake and ambush hunter, it won’t readily get out of the way and strikes with lightning speed if disturbed,” he explained.

Howard said snake venom usually spreads via the lymphatic system (unless a blood vessel is directly penetrated) until it finally reaches the bloodstream when the lymph drains into the large veins below the neck.

“There is merit in slowing down this lymphatic spread by applying a compression bandage (that is, a broad, elasticised crepe bandage about as firmly as one would to a sprained ankle) to the entire limb involved, not only the area of the bite. Blood flow is not compromised. Do not cut or suck the bite. Keep the limb immobilised and seek medical attention,” he advised.

Underberg EMS manager Kate Bordmann, who attended to Oliff, advised hikers to be extremely cautious and vigilant when hiking in the Berg.

This is the second snake bite in a week in Underberg.

The Mercury

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