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How To Avoid Snakebites— And How to Treat One If Disaster Strikes
Posted on Friday, June 29, 2012 by eNature

This story is a repost from July, 2010 that seems a good reminder to share with our readers during the 4th of July holiday.


It’s the height of summer and folks throughout the country are visiting parks, hiking through the woods, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors.  At the same time, lots of creatures are on the move.  Chances are high you might encounter a snake or two if you’re out.  But don’t panic— they’re actually pretty harmless creatures.

Even in areas where there are many venomous snake species, few people ever encounter them, and fewer yet run any real risk of being bitten. Most snakes, even the ones with the worst reputations, will choose to flee when they sense your presence. Snakes usually bite as a last resort. Remember, fangs and venom evolved primarily for prey capture, not as a defense mechanism. Most snakebites in this country come as a result of people trying to handle or otherwise harass or move the snake; avoid this type of behavior and you will probably never get bitten.

How To Avoid Snakebites
Here are some steps you can take to avoid snakebites:

  -Before venturing out into the wilderness, familiarize yourself with the snakes of your area, both venomous and non-venomous species.
  -Learn which habitats the venomous species in your region are likely to be encountered in, and use caution when in those habitats.
  -Always take a buddy into the field with you.
  -Wear boots and loose-fitting pants if you are venturing into venomous snake territory.
  -Try as much as possible not to take a snake by surprise. Stay on trails, and watch where you place your hands and feet, especially when climbing or stepping over fences, large rocks, and logs, or when collecting firewood.

How To Treat Snakebites
Despite what we often see in moves or television, venomous snakebites are rare—and if they do happen, they’re are rarely fatal to humans. Of the 8,000 snakebite victims in the United States each year, only about 10 to 15 die. However, for any snakebite the best course of action is to get medical care as soon as possible. 

And unlike in movies—never try to suck the venom out of wound with your mouth. Nothing good will come of doing that. Instead, follow the steps below:

  -Try to keep the snakebite victim still, as movement helps the venom spread through the body.
  -Keep the injured body part motionless and just below heart level.
  -Keep the victim warm, calm, and at rest, and transport him or her immediately to medical care. Do not allow him to eat or drink anything.
  -If medical care is more than half an hour away, wrap a bandage a few inches above the bite, keeping it loose enough to enable blood flow (you should be able to fit a finger beneath it). Do not cut off blood flow with a tight tourniquet. Leave the bandage in place until reaching medical care.
-  If you have a snakebite kit, wash the bite, and place the kit’s suction device over the bite. (Do not suck the poison out with your mouth.) Do not remove the suction device until you reach a medical facility.
-  Try to identify the snake so the proper antivenin can be administered, but do not waste time or endanger yourself trying to capture or kill it.
  -If you are alone and on foot, start walking slowly toward help, exerting the injured area as little as possible. If you run or if the bite has delivered a large amount of venom, you may collapse, but a snakebite seldom results in death.

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Comments

It also helps to know that a snake can only strike with about one third of its total body length!!—Tom Reilly

Posted by Tom Reilly on 7/3

I like the rule of thumb: The best treatment for a snake bite is car keys.

Never try to capture or kill the snake, there are only two anti-venoms needed in the US and one of them covers about 90% of bites, the other is for more exotic snakes like coral snakes I believe.

Posted by BG on 7/3

The “fact” that a snake can “only” strike with 1/3 of its body length is not helpful but actually a dangerous misconception.  Most snakes can manage at least half their body length and there are those that can spring their full length from a coil (I have seen it quite a few times).  Why is this helpful?  So you can get closer to a rattlesnake?

Posted by Dan Daniels on 7/3

Do NOT use any kind of suction on a snake bite!!! If it is venomous and the person has been envenomated, more damage will be done to the tissues by applying suction and NO venom will come out of the wound! 

Do NOT bandage as swelling may be significant and blood flow will be restricted resulting in more damage than what is caused by the venom. 

As stated previously, the best treatment for a snake bite is car keys.  Stay calm, victim and attendant, and seek medical care! 

See a doctor even it is not a venomous bite as reptiles have bacteria in their mouths that cause infections in puncture wounds.

Posted by gc on 7/3

In the case of a cobra bite, immediately put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye!

Posted by Dave on 7/3

I was bitten on my big toe by a still blue tailed Copperhead. The young ones will most often deliver all their venom in a bite. Fortunately only one fang went into me. Those at the hospital placed me on my back with foot elevated. The next morning the lymph glands in my groin were swollen, very painful and my upper leg was bruised looking. The toe was black and swollen. I learned I should have lain with foot level. That was the worst pain I have ever endured and I am fortunate to still have all but a very small missing piece of my toe. I was not given anti-venom.

Posted by June Howard on 7/3

Rattle snakes in the Appalachian Mtn. can, and will strike 1/2 of
their body length from a coil on a flat surface. When hiking always step on top of a fallen tree or log, never over one. Snakes often
lie along the log’s length, and a hiker can startle a dormant snake and cause it to strike. Unfortunately for the hiker the strike can hit the femoral artery/vein opposite the knee on the backside of the leg resulting in death in a few minutes. Yes, this has happened.

Posted by Dr. Tim Grubb on 7/3

The rhyme identifying a coral snake can sometimes be confusing and take up valuable time.  “Red touch yellow - kill a fellow… Red touch black - friend of Jack.”  I have lived in Florida for many years, and the best way to identify the deadly coral snake vs. non venomous snakes of similar color is simply that the coral snake has a black snout…period!

Posted by Mimi Saylor. on 7/3

Several years ago, my friend’s ex-husband was bitten by a Copperhead and was given anti-venom in the local ER and was sent home. He was told to not drink any alcohol whatsoever. He did and he was found dead the next morning.

Posted by Sharon McKnight on 7/3

It should be noted that venomous snakes do not always inject their venom during bites.Something in the order of 25% are venom free.This is because they may have fed recently and had to inject their prey; or they do not consider you enoughof a threat.They have to build up stores.You will have to seek help regardless.

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/3

Even if you are not injected with venom , the infections that one can develop from a snake or other animal can be deadly too.  Car keys. Every time.

Posted by Chris Larsen on 7/3

I live in Texas, poisoin snake country. What is the deal with the car keys? So confused

Posted by mae on 7/3

Use the car keys to drive to the hospital if there is no one else there to drive you. Call ahead. Not every hospital stocks antivenin. If they have to get it from the regional source, they can get started while you are en route.

Posted by Lesley on 7/3

thanks Lesley, I just may never leave the house, I am horrified, just horrified

Posted by mae on 7/3

as someone who has treated many snakebites, venomous and not over the years, and who has instructed many of our national park rangers in first aid… i hate to endorse a commercial product but the sawyer extractor has proven itself effective in reducing envenomation if immediately applied following snakebite and i recommend everyone who ventures into the wilds to carry one
2500-3000 venomous snakebites occur in usa every year, many are the result of abject stupidity… do not handle venomous snakes, on average 12 of these will die, but some survivors suffer astanishing injuries related to tissue necrosis, basically the venom digests you. alcohol and/or drugs are a factor in many bites
huge problem that increases in frequency every year is exotic non-native species bites, antivenom for this is rare and only stocked in zoos or with venom one unit in miami-dade or in many species not available at all

Posted by steve RN on 7/3

When walking in the shade of trees in the woods, avoid wearing sunglasses and keep your eyes on the ground ahead of you.  A couple of weeks ago, in Northwest Georgia, I was walking through some dense underbrush in the woods and fortunately had just removed my sunglasses.  I almost stepped on a big timber rattler (5 ft).  I don’t think I’d seen it in time if I still had my sunglasses on.  The snake never rattled, but I did make a wide detour around it.  Be careful, snakes are out and may be where you least expect to see them.

Posted by J C Parker on 7/3

I spent many years in snake and gator country in SE Texas. Carry sturdy hiking pole(4 to 5 feet long} to part grass and bushes.Watch where you place your hands.Like people,snakes have different attitudes,some are laid back and some are aggressive.Cottonmouths will stand their ground.You can get close to them and they will strike.When you see the white(cotton)of their inside mouth LOOKOUT!I had to kill one that was less than a foot away.It was my fault.It was huge:over four feet long and thick around as a beer can.Copperheads will warn you by acting like rattlesnakes.Cottonmouths will also steal your bait and catch when you are fishing.I know this first hand.Texas allows you to carry a firearm just for this purpose.Copperheads frequent uplands,Cottonmouths lowlands and water.A much more dangerous denizen of snake country is the Wild Boar.You have a better chance of being hurt in our major cities by “two legged “snakes than being bitten in snake country.BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS!

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/4

many people take their dogs with them when they go hiking.  while it is tempting to let them run off-lead, they will be safer from snakebite if you keep them close.  we made the mistake of allowing our 3 to run through a somewhat remote area in new mexico while on vacation there, and one of them was bitten on the leg and the face.  we never saw the snake and were unaware that anything had happened to our dog until his face began to swell.  we found out from the vet that there is immunization available for dogs in that area.  if you live in the southwest, i would highly recommend it for your dogs!

Posted by linda m bishop on 7/4

Some good advice here. Rattlesnakes in the Appalachians were mentioned earlier.  I’m certainly not disputing anything that was said, but I wanted to add the the timber rattlesnake (the species of rattler in the appalachians) is known for having an almost docile personality. Of course there is always the chance of running into an aggressive individual but I did field work in the appalachians, and was hiking in rattler habitat 8 hrs a day (along with 3 other people). We all saw rattlers and 3 of us got too close for comfort. In every case the snake pretty much ignored us, even when we accidentally got very close. One girl didn’t see a snake and was inches from stepping on it and he gave one little rattle to warn her. She barely avoided stepping on him, and he still didn’t even move. Obviously, you should always take precautions in areas with venomous snakes, but I think a lot of these snakes get a lot worse reputation than they deserve.

Posted by A. Jensen on 7/4

Joe…
Thanks for the reminder about cottonmouth…
The story (a seemingly very unlikely one…)
I had forgotten was; once while fishing in my Uncle Trudett’s “tank” (manmade pond) in Oklahoma; I had caught a fish and was turned away fussing with tackle with the fish on the line pulled up onto shore, and heard a splash. I turned, and a 3-3.5’ Water Mocassin was trying to get a better grip on my fish, and in what had to have been only a few seconds, had smoothed in, grabbed the fish, and had it almost into the water…
I won back the fish; and chased off the snake…but I didn’t keep the fish, and I had an uncharacteristically intense case of the heebie-jeebies for hours,and obviously had filed it as an unpleasantly shocking and disconcerting close call. If malice, rather than sushi…had been the snake’s main goal, I could have been badly bitten.
Safe Travel, Folks…
Thanks, Joe, for the reminder!

Posted by Peter Thomas on 7/4

Good story Peter!If anyone wants to study reptiles,visit Brazos Bend State Park,55 miles southeast of Housto Texas.It is like entering a primeval world.It is infested with snakes of many species and world record size alligators(over 14 feet long).It also has wild boar that have been known to chase picknickers away from their festivities and eat all the spoils.Keep your dogs on a lease,alligators are opportunic feeders.I saw a snake crossing a two lane road and it was long enough to span about 2/3 of both lanes!I believe it was an indigo snake and the record is about 9 feet long,honest!

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/5

Interesting article! I hope that everyone has a great and safe weekend! I also hope that they had a great and safe vFourth of July this past Wednesday!

Posted by Mike on 7/6

Last summer I witnessed my Airedale get struck on the muzzle by a small (16”) copperhead at 9:30 PM during a raging thunderstorm in rural Powhatan, VA. The snake had washed out from underneath a downspout in the fenced backyard and was wiggling through mud and water when the dog encountered it. Lucky for Lily, the snake did not envenomate! She was on antibiotics for 3 weeks, however, because the vet at the emergency clinic said that dogs (and humans) can get nasty, sometimes fatal, infections from the wounds even minus the venom. 3 things: I was able to confirm the species identity because my nephew beheaded it with a shovel, the vet told me that about 1/3 to 1/2 of the copperhead bites she treats show no evidence of venom, and that snake’s strike which I could clearly see because of security lights in the yard was equal to the length of its body!

Posted by Carolyn on 7/7

Here in Arizona where we have 18 species of venomous snakes and beautiful wilderness that tempts us outside year round, I heard that the VAST majority of rattlesnake bites happen to people who are (1) young, (2) male, (3) consuming alcohol, and (4) have tattoos.

Posted by Holly on 7/7

Tattoos?

Posted by June Howard on 7/8

Yes, tattoos!  I don’t really think the snakes have anything against the tattoos.  More likely a young man who might want to show how macho he is might get a tattoo on one occasion and try to pick up a snake after a few too many beers on another.  Just a theory. And I am NOT saying that everyone with tattoos has something to prove.

Posted by Holly on 7/8

Here are some nightmares:Our largest poisonous reptile is the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake.It can reach a length of over 8 feet and be as thick as an adult human’s thigh!!Top it off,it’s fangs can be over 1 inch long.It is the heaviest of all poisonous reptiles.The King Cobra is the longest:over 18 feet.It can strike a person and literally knock them off their feet.It can inject enough venom to kill an adult elephant in a day,if it is able to penetrate the tough,thick skin!Happy dreaming!

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/11

By the way,the weight of our largest rattler is 15 pounds.I have heard of snake milker’s and scientists who inject themselves with venom of different snakes to build up an immunity to the bites!They still get somewhat sick,and get treated,but at a lesser degree.Though it does not guarantee infection that may require amputation of fingers,toes etc.That is dedication.

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/11

Joseph, According to the University of Florida the largest eastern diamondback on record was 8 feet, 10 pounds. That’s still a HUGE snake, especially compared to our western diamondback that usually gets to only about 3.5 feet.  There was an email hoax that you probably saw that had pictures of a big snake - the photos were real but the snake was 7 feet, 3 inches, as measured by the guy who killed it. The snake certainly looked larger than that in the photos, but perspective can do that to you. I always let the snakes live in my yard - live and let live is my philosophy. Besides, they kill rodents that I’m not so happy to have around, like the (adorable) desert woodrat, which we call packrat.

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Posted by cheap brand watch on 7/21

I used to have the “live and let live” philosophy too, until bitten by a copperhead not 20 ft from the front door. Last year our Chihuahua was bitten on the face by a copperhead and lost vision in one eye. That darkened my opinions of vipers. I used to ignore Black Snakes until they continued eat nests full of baby birds on our front porch. A Black Snake coiled around the neck of a hen on the nest. The hen was saved but now she leaves her egg in the pen, on the henhouse floor, or if loose, under the Rosemary bush by the front door.  I’m no longer nice to snakes.

Posted by June Howard on 7/21

June,how did it feel to be bitten and how was your recovery?I have a giant female German Shepherd and she is afraid of snakes.She once saw a ribbon snake coiled about a foot from her and jumped 2 feet backwards when the snake moved to flee!I had a lady friend who had relatives in S.E. Tennessee who had 30 acres of pinelands.They had a snake killer cat who killed them and brought them home.She was bitten by a copperhead,brought it home to show it off and the cat survived.One tough cat!

Posted by Joseph Matteini on 7/22

Joseph, that snake bite was the most excruciating pain I have ever endured and I am not a wimp. I felt as though I had jammed my foot into broken glass and the pain was immediate. The snake was still blue-tailed and only one fang went into my toe. I cannot imagine having doubled the pain. It felt as though a hot vise was on my foot which was being constantly tightened. It took morphine to lighten the pain in the ER. My leg was elevated overnight which is a mistake. The venom went to the lymph nodes in the groin area and there was swelling and bruising there also. I used a walker for a week and had to keep the leg bent when using it. Amazingly, the Chihuahua survived her bite and later saved me from stepping on a Pigmy Rattler. Animals are a lot tougher than people.

Posted by June Howard on 7/22

After a snake presentation in San Felipe, Baja, Mexico in 1997, by myself and noted toxicologist Darwin K. Vest; I “drank the venom” from a Speckled rattle snake (Crotalus Michelli Pyrrus), a protected species from Isla de Muerta, an island in the northern Sea of Cortez. We had milked the snake for the presentation into a shot glass as a demonstration. We discussed it before I drank, noting that I did not have any sores in my mouth. He affirmed that the venom only affects your blood related tissues, not the stomach lining.  No ill affects what so ever, and pleasant to the taste buds.

Posted by George Jackson on 7/24

George, Yuk!

Posted by June Howard on 7/25
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