Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Aussie Spiders - Reputation is worse than their bite!

Red Back Spider - Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald
My next door neighbour was telling me the other day that she'd been bitten by an insect on her foot. Apparently it "blew up" immediately and her Doc told her that she had developed cellulitis and started her on antibiotics.

A few thoughts stirred in my ageing brain, but I quickly moved on from the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics, to musing on insect and spider bites in this Great Southern Land called Australia. 

When the young bride and I first arrived down under we were regaled with stories of the most venomous snakes in the world, spiders the size of smartie with enough toxic venom in them to kill a horse - and all of these creatures are to be found in your backyard or under the toiler seat!! I also vividly remember a certain visiting Bishop develop a visible blood lust when called upon to deal with a large Tarantula which was holding court in our bathroom. The poor creature was drowned in Mortein by our Special Forces Prelate! I later learned to love those large, hairy arachnids who love nothing more than to dine on mosquitoes. Those buzzing, pesky insects, which can make an evening barbecue a living nightmare, are much more of a health risk than any spider is - just think Ross River Virus, Dengue fever ... even Malaria.

As far as spiders go Australia does have an impressive array of them and it's worth remembering that all spiders kill their victims (mainly insects) with a venom. But we shouldn't fear them as much as we do - apart from perhaps a couple of well known villains. Compared to we humans, even the most "dangerous" spider must be seen as veritable pussy cats!

Top of the list of "good idea to avoid" spiders is the Funnel Web.
Courtesy Australian Geographic
This is an aggressive little critter and if you think you've been bitten by one of these then you should pop along to your local hospital for prompt attention. The Neuro-Toxin they produce can have some very unpleasant side effects. The good news is that there is an anti-venom and secondly, no one has died from a Funnel web spider bite since modern first aid was introduced. In fact in the history of New South Wales only 13 deaths have been recorded.

One other spider you shouldn't poke a stick at is the Red Backed Spider - photo at top of the page. These lovely creatures live in a tangled we, are easy to spot and just enjoy eating other insects. Even the male of the species can be devoured by his mate in the course of mating (who said life is easy for we men?)
They certainly carry a huge punch but rarely leave their tangled fortress.

Problems occur when people/kids try to catch them, try to pick them up or think they are dead in the skimmer box of swimming pools. You will know if they've bitten you as the bite is very painful. Apply some ice, pop the offending insect into a bottle and head off to the local Hospital for the anti-venom. No one has died from a Red Back bite since the anti-venom has been available.

Here's a spider that has a lousy reputation for no reason at all! 
Courtesy Museum of Victoria
This is the White Tail Spider. It has a reputation of causing nasty flesh eating ulcers - but thankfully, the poor arachnid is seemingly innocent. In a study of 100 cases of identified white tail spider bites, not one of the patients suffered any loss of flesh!! Why devour a human when there are a billion flies to eat locally!

Just to put things in perspective:

On average:
  • Two people die from snake bites each year
  • Three people die from shark attacks each year.
  • Ten people die from Bee Stings each year.
  • Between 80 and 100 women die each year as a result of domestic violence
  • 1153 people died on the roads in 2014

There have been no deaths from spider bites since 1979
and there are far more spiders than humans out there!

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Buying time with CPR - you CAN save lives!

I've just attended a 2 day workshop on Advanced Life Support and Advanced Trauma Life Support run by Western Australia's Rural Health Organization. Believe me, it was intense and hugely informative. I don't think I've pumped out that much adrenaline role-playing emergency scenarios in a long, long time! I came away with a greater confidence that even as a GP with nearly four decades of experience that I can do more to help the people I care for in emergency situations.

But there is something that everyone can do that can help save lives - CPR

Effective CPR buys time! Crucial time that allows an ambulance, or someone with a Defibrillator (and all airports, large urban shopping centres, gymnasiums etc now have them readily available) to arrive. Getting a Defibrillator onto a collapsed person who's not breathing - AS SOON AS POSSIBLE - provides that person with the maximum chance of survival.

Remember: maintaining circulation with CPR is the only tool we have when someone collapses outside of a hospital environment. And the big difference to survival is a DEFIBRILLATOR.

All Defibrillators are really smart machines: all you have to do is place the pads on the patients chest and switch the machine on. It will diagnose what's going and tell you exactly what to do.

So the message is simple:

  1. Learn effective CPR to buy TIME
  2. In the DRSABC algorithm you will learn, probably the most important thing to do is SEND FOR HELP which in real life is to say:

 "Call for an Ambulance and see if there's a Defibrillator in this place"

 You can make a difference. Effective CPR buys time, but a Defibrillator saves lives.
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