A practical working knowledge of basic first aid is a valuable skill to have, especially in remote wilderness areas. Ideally, at least one person in the party should have a first aid qualification. All parties should carry a well-stocked first aid kit.
Try and prevent blisters by wearing two pairs of socks and making sure your boots are comfortably worn-in.
If this doesn’t work, stop at the first sign of blisters and protect the sore area – use adhesive tape such as Leucoplast™ or Moleskin to fully cover the site. If blisters form they can be pricked with a flamesterilised needle. Drain the fluid, apply antiseptic and tape the site. This will usually allow you to finish the walk but will require a clean dressing at the end of each day. For bad blisters, tape a foam pad around the blister to protect it from rubbing against the boot.
Hypothermia is the physical and mental collapse that accompanies chilling of the body’s inner core. It is caused by exposure to cold, and is intensified by wet and windy conditions. Most cases develop when air temperatures are between -1°C and 10°C. It is the most common cause of death of walkers in Tasmanian wilderness areas.
Dress to stay warm and dry and be aware of the chilling effect of wind. Always keep your sleeping bag and a spare set of clothes dry in a tough plastic bag inside your pack – they are essential for treating and preventing hypothermia.
Early signs of hypothermia are persistent shivering, frequent stumbling and exhaustion. In advanced cases, shivering stops, the patient becomes irrational and, if untreated, will lapse into coma. Death soon follows.
Get the victim out of the wind and rain and into dry clothes. Give warm sugary drinks and place them in a dry sleeping bag. Have someone get into the sleeping bag with the person. Aim to slowly and gently re-warm the victim. If breathing stops, administer emergency resuscitation. Even if the patient appears to have recovered it is necessary to treat them as a stretcher case. Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
Do not rub the victim’s skin, give alcohol, apply direct heat to any part of their body or give them stimulants, including coffee or chocolate. These all cause heat to be lost from the body’s core and make the condition worse.
This condition is usually caused by physical exertion during prolonged exposure to heat.
Wear a broad brimmed hat, take it easy in hot weather and drink plenty of water.
Pale, moist and clammy skin; dizziness, headache, normal or sub-normal temperature, vomiting.
Lie the victim in a cool shaded area with feet elevated Give lots of water. Continue until symptoms disappear.
If untreated, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke (hyperthermia)
Dry, flushed skin; dizziness, nausea, muscle spasms, unconsciousness.
As for heat exhaustion, but include rapid body cooling techniques such as immersion in water, wetting clothing and fanning. Continue to replace body fluids. Seek urgent medical aid.
All three species of snakes in Tasmania (tiger snake, lowland copperhead and white-lipped snake) are venomous but they rarely attack unless provoked. Most bites occur when people try to kill snakes (this is illegal because snakes are wholly protected) or when they are accidentally stepped on. Snakes are particularly active during the mating season (February to March). If you see a snake, admire its sinuous beauty from a safe distance.
Snakebite is rare, but if someone in your party is bitten, follow these steps.
- Lie the victim down and do not permit them to move
- Don’t wash or cut the bitten area (most of the venom is likely to be on the surface of the skin – cutting or washing may allow more venom to enter the wound)
- Immediately apply a firm pressure bandage from the bite site all the way down the limb to the fingers or toes, and back up to cover the entire limb. The bandage should be firm but not tight – you should be able to feel a pulse beyond the bandaged area.
- Immobilise the affected limb by splinting. Leave the bandage on and send someone (preferably two people) to raise the alarm.
- Reassure the patient – death from snakebite is rare. Observe the airway and breathing during treatment. If breathing stops apply emergency resuscitation.
Do not apply a tourniquet – this can cause tissue damage at the site and can lead to the loss of the limb.
Do not attempt to kill the snake for identification – the same antivenom is used for all Tasmanian snakes.
Sprained or twisted ankles
You may not have access to ice, but follow the RICE rule – Rest, Ice (or cold water), Compression, Elevation.
Apply a firm bandage and raise the limb to reduce swelling. A twisted ankle may recover after a day of rest and keeping it elevated and cold. If the ankle is painful to walk on, your group must decide to wait before continuing or to send the most experienced two people out to get help, with one person staying behind with the victim.
If your party requires assistance, you can send a note out with other walkers or with two of your group. The note should detail the name, date and time, nature of any injuries, name of other group members, exact location and the assistance required. This note can be passed on until it reaches help but you should not rely on it alone. Ensure that you or your group members are able to care for the injured person with first aid until help arrives.
Mobile phone reception is often not available in many areas where popular walking tracks are located. Do not expect that you will be able to use your mobile to call for help.