Camping first aid

First Aid for Campers

Oh, the joys of the great outdoors. Excitement and adventure, tents, barbecues, feral children… and all those knocks and nasties that are enough to dampen any campfire. Most of us are prepared for a few scrapes, but what should you do if a snake bites your nearest and dearest? Or if the apple of your eye gets heatstroke?

Sai Kung resident Virginia Newhouse, a registered nurse who runs first-aid courses, is a mine of practical advice. Arm yourself with the following knowledge — and hope you never need to use it.


The burns most likely to occur on a hike or camping trip are thermal burns, typically caused by fire, hot water, hot fat and hot metal. There are three levels of burn, classified by severity: first-degree burns are red and painful but don’t blister; second degree are red, swollen and very painful with blisters; third-degree burns can look charred, white and/or leathery. There is usually no pain at the site of a third-degree burn because the nerves to the surrounding skin have been destroyed.

“For minor burns, apply cool but not ice-cold water for 20 minutes,” Ms Newhouse says. “If water isn’t available, use other drinks and then cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick dressing to reduce infection. Clingfilm is a good alternative. Do not break the blister, remove peeled skin or pull clothing off the burn, but do loosen any tight clothing and jewellery, such as bracelets or rings, before swelling occurs.”

Burns to the face and neck can cause breathing difficulties and smoke inhalation can also be a medical emergency. If the burn is severe, do not give the patient anything to eat or drink and head to the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, which, according to Ms Newhouse, has an excellent Burns Unit.

Snakebites Hong Kong’s eight species of potentially lethal snake – banded krait, many-banded krait, Chinese cobra, king cobra, coral snake, red-necked keelback, bamboo viper and mountain pit viper – are predominantly nocturnal and fatalities are rare. Bites are usually the result of the snake feeling threatened (if you step on one, or put your hand where the snake is hiding).

If one of your party is bitten, Ms Newhouse says an ambulance should be called and the person should lie down and be kept still and calm. The bite should be kept below the heart if possible and a pressure bandage applied, bandaging away from the heart towards the site of the bite. The bite location should be marked on the outside of the bandage. “Do not wash off the venom and try to remember the colour of the snake,” she says.


Heatstroke is caused by over exposure to high temperatures and may be life threatening. Signs and symptoms include profuse sweating, flu-like symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea and fatigue, a rapid pulse, thirst, flushed skin, delirium and loss of consciousness.

“To manage heatstroke, move the patient to a cool place and raise their legs 20 to 30 centimetres,” Ms Newhouse says. “Cool, sponge or wet their clothes, placing ice on the groin and in the armpits. Give the patient liquids only if they are fully alert; dilute sport drinks by 50 per cent.”

Medical attention should be sought if the patient’s condition does not improve after rest.


A broken bone is said to be fractured, usually as the result of unusual force. Symptoms include pain, swelling, deformity and loss of function at the injured area and altered sensation, such as pins and needles.

“Stabilise the fractured limb and don’t move it unnecessarily,” she cautions. “If there is a wound, control bleeding with direct pressure and a clean dressing applied loosely over the injured area. Medical attention will be needed.”

Happy camping!