Case Report: Safe Tourniquet Removal in Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) Bites

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  • 1 Emergency Medicine, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

The black mamba is known for its notorious potent neurotoxic venom. For this reason, their bites are often erroneously treated in the field with the application of a tourniquet in the hope of delaying systemic spread of the venom. Observational studies have shown that inappropriate tourniquet application is a common, harmful practice. An arterial tourniquet is not a recommended first aid measure because of the risk of limb ischemia and gangrene. When inappropriately applied, the rapid removal of the tourniquet in the emergency department may precipitate a life-threatening venom and metabolic toxin rush, leading to respiratory arrest. We present two cases of black mamba bites in Gauteng, South Africa, where gradual tourniquet removal was used to avoid a venom rush and rapid respiratory paralysis. Venom and metabolic toxin rush with potentially fatal respiratory muscle paralysis may be averted by gradual, cautious removal of field-applied tourniquets with concomitant antivenom administration.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Ratang Pholosho Pelle, Emergency Department, Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Prinsoff, Gauteng, South Africa. E-mail:

Authors’ addresses: Ratang Pholosho Pelle, Andreas Engelbrecht, and Vidya Lalloo, Emergency Medicine, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa, E-mails:,, and