In my years of working in the emergency medical field, I’ve come across a lot of misconceptions to things. Chief among these are snake bites. I’ve heard it all… “Cut a cross and suck the poison”, “use that snake bite kit from the dollar store”, and finally the “you gonna die” folks. So to help clear the water, I’m going to give you some FACTS when it comes to snake bites.
In North America, particularly the United States, there are literally only FOUR snakes you have to watch out for:
That’s literally it. Any other snake that you encounter in North America should be harmless unless some idiots Cobra is running amok. So what do you actually do if you are bitten by one of these snakes? First thing is first, I can promise you that your snake bite kit is basically money thrown down a hole.
1) Don’t panic and try to back away from the snake. More than likely it was a dry non-venomous bite anyways so you most likely aren’t even envenomated. Adult snakes value their venom as that’s how they catch their food. Younger snakes tend to deliver the wet bites routinely since they can’t quite control that instinct yet.
2) If you can figure out what kind of snake it is, then that is helpful in determining what kind care you’ll be receiving. More than likely the snake is harmless, and you shouldn’t have stepped on it or scared it to begin with.
3) If you can get to a hospital, call 911, or get to a treatment facility of some kind then you are ahead of the game.
That’s really all you have to do and the professionals like me will take care of you. Now here are some things to do if you can’t get to the hospital.
Follow steps 1 and 2 above.
3) Lay the person on the ground away from the snake with the area that has been bitten raised below the level of the heart. Obviously, anything to the legs or hands will require the person to sit upright or in a position of comfort that allows the extremity to be lower than the heart level.
4) DO NOT PLACE A TOURNIQUET!!!! The objective here is to dilute the venom and the only way to do that is through hydration. If the venom is diluted, then there is less chance of it causing major harm to the person. You can’t dilute the venom if there is a tourniquet on as that keeps it all in one spot. That is BAD! So have them drink plenty of fluids but stay away from caffeine. Caffeine raises the heart rate, and you want the person calm and collected.
5) You’ll want to cover the bite location with a clean sterile dressing but before doing so, take a sharpie or some other pen and write the date and time on the leg as a reference of current conditions. This is to prevent the injury site from getting dirty, while also soaking up any venom or blood that may seep from the wound. Be careful if you have to change the dressing because there is a possibility of the venom getting on your skin. It can cause irritation. If there is swelling, then mark the progress by writing the time and drawing a line across the further swollen point. Do this every hour from the initial bite time.
6) If it’s safe to do so, and you haven’t noticed very much swelling, and the person isn’t in very much pain, then assist them to a vehicle or to an easily accessible place where help can arrive. If there is a lot of swelling and pain, then it may be hard for the person to move on their own or even with assistance. You may have to make a litter and drag the person out or make a stretcher that you and another person can carry them out.
If you have questions, then post them below. Know that there are only about 5,000 venomous snake bites in the US every year, and that of those, there is a minute percentage that actually ends in fatality. Most fatal bites are due to anaphylaxis which is a totally different medical condition.