most commonly occur on the hands and arms when an individual attempts to play
with or capture a snake.
Non-Poisonous Snakebites: Often, the small teeth of a snake
leave a scrape that doesn't even puncture the skin.
Unknown (Unidentified) Snakes: Sometimes the snake disappears shortly
after the bite. In a few cases, the snake has been killed but is hard to
identify. Most bites are from harmless snakes. Generally, you can assume this
to be the case unless the bite mark burns or swells within 5 minutes or there
are 2 obvious punctures (fang marks).
result in 12 to 15 deaths per year in the U.S. (1 to 2% of the total poisonous
In the United States there are two general groupings of poisonous
snakes: pit vipers and coral snakes.
Pit Vipers: The different members of the pit
viper group include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (water
moccasins). In about 20% of bites, fortunately, no venom is injected (dry
bites). If venom is injected, the fang marks will begin to burn and hurt
within 5 minutes and swell within 30 minutes. Systemic symptoms (e.g. nausea,
sweating, weakness) may take several hours to develop. Severity of symptoms
depends upon the quantity of venom injected, the degree of venom toxicity, the
location of the bite, the snake species and size, and the victim's age and
Coral Snakes: The venom from a coral snake is toxic to the nervous
system. A bite can cause severe weakness or paralysis with minimal pain or swelling
at the bite mark.
FIRST AID for Poisonous
most important treatment for poisonous snakebites is to go to a hospital emergency
department as rapidly as possible so that you can receive appropriate antivenin
and other emergency measures.
General Measures: The following first aid measures are recommended
for ALL poisonous snake bites:
- Move away from the snake.
- Remain calm and minimize activity (to reduce
absorption and circulation of the venom).
- Promptly transport victim to a medical
Incision and Suction (or "Cut and Suck"): Do NOT perform
incision and suction. The majority of experts recommend against this. In addition,
an incision performed by a hurried, nervous, and inexperienced individual may
result in damage to an artery, nerve, or tendon.
Suction: Do NOT suck the bite wound with your mouth. You can
buy a snakebite kit, which contains a suction device (Sawyer Extractor).
Lymphatic Constriction Band: In this technique a loose band is applied
around the arm or leg between the bite wound and the heart. A number of
experts recommend this, because it theoretically will reduce the distribution
of the venom to the remainder of the body and thus delay systemic effects.
- Instructions assume that the victim is more
than 2 hours from the hospital, and that less than 30 minutes have
elapsed since the bite wound.
- Place a constriction band around the
extremity, at least 2 inches above the bite, but not around a joint. Use
a wide band such as elastic bandage or a piece of clothing.
- Make the band snug, but not tight enough to
stop blood flow in the veins or arteries. It should be loose enough to
easily slip a finger under it. If the hand or foot turns white and cold
or the pulse disappears, the tourniquet is much too tight and may damage
- Once applied, leave it in place until you
have been evaluated by a medical professional.
WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR FOR SNAKE BITE
Call 911 Now (you may
need an ambulance) If:
- Passed out
- Very weak (can't stand)
- Difficult to awaken or acting confused (disoriented, slurred
- Difficulty breathing
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9am
and 4pm) If:
- You think
you need to be seen
- No tetanus booster in more than 10 years
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:
- You have
other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home If:
- Non-poisonous snakebite
with no complications and you don't think you need to be seen
HOME CARE ADVICE FOR NON-POISONOUS SNAKEBITE
- Cleansing: Wash
the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic ointment (over
the counter) once to the bite mark.
Call Your Doctor If:
- You develop any other symptoms in the 6 hours after the snakebite.
- Bite begins to look infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender
to touch, or red streaks)
- You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor"
Disclaimer: This information
is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is
provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility
for how you choose to use this information.
Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004
David Thompson, M.D. FACEP
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