Life-saving first aid for shark bites
A groundbreaking Australian study into first-aid for shark attacks has found a simple technique that could save the lives of victims with life-threatening leg injuries.
While bystanders often focus on CPR or use makeshift tourniquets to try to stop blood loss, emergency medicine doctors told a conference in Perth that it is far more effective to put pressure on the groin.
Severe trauma to the lower limbs is the most common injury in people mauled by sharks, while injuries to the upper limbs are rare and those to the torso are mostly not survivable.
There have been 13 unprovoked shark attacks in Australia this year, including four in WA — the most recent near Mandurah last week.
Canberra Hospital emergency doctor and surfer Nick Taylor was prompted to do the study after visiting the Margaret River region amid concerns about an increase in shark attacks and a lack of consensus about how to perform first aid. Dr Taylor said there were reports of people dying from blood loss from the leg and the use of tourniquets.
He and colleague David Lamond’s study known as SHARC — stopping haemorrhage by application of rope tourniquet or inguinal compression — compared the use of tourniquets versus compression.
Dr Taylor is presenting the results at the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s annual scientific meeting, which starts in Perth tomorrow with more than 900 delegates from around the world attending.
Their study used an ultrasound to measure the reduction in blood flow in the artery behind the knee using a tourniquet compared to applying firm pressure on the groin.
“Commercial tourniquets work well but not a single person who has been bitten by a shark in recent times has been carrying one of them, so instead people often use a leg rope as an improvised tourniquet, which is not the best,” he said.
“I had used this other technique on a patient where we managed to stop the bleeding with compression and we thought we could do a trial to see if it worked.
“We found that pushing in the groin where the main artery supplies the leg is very effective and it’s something anyone can do.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the CPR that people do just pushes more blood out of the leg.”
Surfer and Canberra doctor Nick Taylor.