Poisonous snake bites are medical emergencies, and they can be deadly if not treated quickly. Children are at higher risk for death or serious complications because of their smaller body size. However, the right anti-venom can save a person's life. Getting the person to an emergency room as quickly as possible is very important. If properly treated, many snakebites will not have serious effects.
Poisonous snake bites include bites by any of the following:
- Cottonmouth (water moccasin)
- Coral snake
- Various snakes found at zoos
All snakes will bite when threatened or surprised, but most will usually avoid an encounter if possible and only bite as a last resort. Snakes found in and near water are frequently mistaken as being poisonous. Most species of snake are harmless and many bites will not be life-threatening, but unless you are absolutely sure that you know the species, treat it seriously.
- Bloody wound discharge
- Blurred vision
- Excessive sweating
- Fang marks in the skin
- Increased thirst
- Local tissue death
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numbness and tingling
- Rapid pulse
- Severe pain
- Skin discoloration
- Swelling at the site of the bite
1. Keep the person calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. Restrict movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
2. If you have a pump suction device (such as that made by Sawyer), follow the manufacturer's directions.
3. Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell. Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
4. If the area of the bite begins to swell and change color, the snake was probably poisonous.
5. Monitor the person's vital signs -- temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure -- if possible. If there are signs of shock (such as paleness), lay the person flat, raise the feet about a foot, and cover the person with a blanket.
6. Get medical help immediately.
7. Bring in the dead snake only if this can be done safely. Do not waste time hunting for the snake, and do not risk another bite if it is not easy to kill the snake. Be careful of the head when transporting it -- a snake can actually bite for up to an hour after it's dead (from a reflex).
- DO NOT allow the person to become over-exerted. If necessary, carry the person to safety.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet.
- DO NOT apply cold compresses to a snake bite.
- DO NOT cut into a snake bite with a knife or razor.
- DO NOT try to suction the venom by mouth.
- DO NOT give the person stimulants or pain medications unless instructed to do so by a doctor.
- DO NOT give the person anything by mouth.
- DO NOT raise the site of the bite above the level of the person's heart.
- Even though most snakes are not poisonous, avoid picking up or playing with any snake unless you have been properly trained.
- Many serious snakebites occur when someone deliberately provokes a snake.
- When hiking in an area known to have snakes, wear long pants and boots if possible.
- Avoid areas where snakes may be hiding such as under rocks and logs.
- Tap ahead of you with a walking stick before entering an area with an obscured view of your feet. Snakes will attempt to avoid you if given adequate warning.
- If you are a frequent hiker, consider purchasing a snakebite kit (available from hiking supply stores.) Do not use older snakebite kits, such as those containing razor blades and suction bulbs.