Snakebite season is here. In North America, there are over 7,000 snakebites a year, many of them non-fatal and non-
venomous. In fact ,of the 20 species of venomous snakes (which include 16 species of rattlesnakes, 2 species of coral snakes, one species of cottonmouth (or water moccasin), and one species of copperhead ) most of the bites are from the cottonmouth whose venom is the least toxic and their bite is rarely fatal. The fatal bites belong to the Eastern and Western Diamondback rattlesnake.
So what do you do when you get receive a snakebite? Use your snakebite kit right? Well, according to the Wall Street Journal article “Deadly Dilemma: Do Snake-Bite Kits Help?”, it turns out most snake bite kits give bad advice and are based on outmoded ideas. Tourniquets and cutting open the bite are also bad ideas.
Here is what you should NOT do:
Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.. This may put you or someone else at risk for a bite.
Do not apply a tourniquet. It slows blood and can damage the nerves. It does not slow the venom from spreading throughout the body.
Do not slash the wound with a knife. Just damages the area around the bit and does not remove the venom
Do not suck out the venom. It turns that although suction can remove venom it is such minute amounts it doesn’t matter.
Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water. Ice can stop the venom from spreading but because it may stay in the bite area there is more damage to the tissue than if it had spread a bit.
Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller. Does nothing to kill pain and just makes you a drunk snake bite victim
Do not drink caffeinated beverages. Don’t now maybe it is just me, but I don’t think a cup of coffee is what I want after I get bit by a snake.
Here is what you SHOULD do:
Call 911. Most hospitals have anti-venom and the sooner you get it the less damage.
Remain calm. ( yea right)
Remove any jewelry or clothing around the bite.
Restrict movement as much as possible and try to keep the wound just below the level of your heart. This will reduce the spread of venom.
Try to remember what the snake looked like: its color, shape, and markings. This will help with your treatment.
Cover the bite with a clean, dry bandage.
The thing I didn’t realize is how many people don’t know that they got bitten by a snake. An example would be walking in the water and feeling a sharp pain. Although you feel it, it is easy to put the pain down it scraping it on a sharp rock or branch. The same with walking in the woods and feeling like you hit a sharp twig or maybe got a wasp sting. Either way here is how you know you have been bit, especially if you have not seen the critter that did the deed.
Two puncture marks at the wound
Redness or swelling around the wound
Fever-like symptoms, such as sweating
Numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers, toes or area around the wound
So what does one do to prevent snake bit. There is of course the obvious. Don’t go where the snakes are. If you do, be diligent. I remember learning way back in girl scouts to never step or a log or rock on the path. Always step on top of it and look down to make sure you don’t surprise a snake. I do that to this day.
Here is a list of how to avoid snake bite or at least give yourself the edge.
When moving through areas with tall grass and weeds, always poke at the ground ahead of you with a long stick or pole to scare any snakes away.
Wear loose, long pants and tall boots when working or walking in areas where snakes are likely to be. (there are snake chaps that one can wear as well as long pants and boots.)
Never handle snakes, even dead ones. If you see a snake, slowly back away from it.
Always sleep on a cot when camping.
Be aware of snakes if you are swimming or wading in rivers, lakes or other bodies of water (this includes areas covered with water due to flooding).
Regularly trim hedges keep your lawn mowed and remove brush from your yard and any nearby vacant lots. This will reduce the number of places where snakes like to live.
Don’t allow children to play in vacant lots with tall grass and weeds.
Always inspect the yard before allowing children to play.
Always use tongs when moving firewood, brush, or lumber. This will safely expose any snakes that may be hidden underneath.
While a lot of this seems like common sense, it never hurts to give yourself a little refresher. There are also folks who would argue with that the snakebite kit is an important first aid kit, necessary to have. I would never say it wasn’t. I think that keeping any wound clean and lightly covered is a good thing. The CDC says that you can cover a snakebite just make sure it is loose an you can put your finger under the dressing. I will say though, that snakebite kit or not, the most important first aid you can have is your cellphone to call 911 or emergency beacon device.
This summer remember to look for snakes. With more development there are more snakes looking for a place to live. In California, there is a drought and therefore, there will be more snakes coming into neighborhoods looking for food and water. Enjoy all your summer activities, just remember to remain safe and snake aware.