Snake Bite Concerns

Snake fangsThe chance of a snakebite in a survival situation is rather small, if you are familiar with the various types of snakes and their habitats. However, it could happen and you should know how to treat a snakebite. Deaths from snakebites are rare. More than one-half of the snakebite victims have little or no poisoning, and only about one-quarter develop serious systemic poisoning. However, the chance of a snakebite in a survival situation can affect morale, and failure to take preventive measures or failure to treat a snakebite properly can result in needless tragedy.

The primary concern in the treatment of snakebite is to limit the amount of eventual tissue
destruction around the bite area.

Rattlesnake coiled to strikeA bite wound, regardless of the type of animal that inflicted it, can become infected from bacteria in the animal’s mouth. With nonpoisonous as well as poisonous snakebites, this local infection is responsible for a large part of the residual damage that results.

Snake venoms not only contain poisons that attack the victim’s central nervous system (neurotoxins) and blood circulation (hemotoxins), but also digestive enzymes (cytotoxins) to aid in digesting their prey. These poisons can cause a very large area of tissue death, leaving a large open wound. This condition could lead to the need for eventual amputation if not treated.

Shock and panic in a person bitten by a snake can also affect the person’s recovery. Excitement, hysteria, and panic can speed up the circulation, causing the body to absorb the toxin quickly. Signs of shock occur within the first 30 minutes after the bite.

Snake Bite Symptoms

Before you start treating a snakebite, determine whether the snake was poisonous or nonpoisonous. Bites from a nonpoisonous snake will show rows of teeth. Bites from a poisonous snake may have rows of teeth showing, but will have one or more distinctive puncture marks caused by fang penetration. Symptoms of a poisonous bite may be spontaneous bleeding from the nose and anus, blood in the urine, pain at the site of the bite, and swelling at the site of the bite within a few minutes or up to 2 hours later.

Breathing difficulty, paralysis, weakness, twitching, and numbness are also signs of neurotoxic venoms. These signs usually appear 1.5 to 2 hours after the bite.

Treating a Snake Bite

Copperhead snakeIf you determine that a poisonous snake bit an individual, take the following steps:

  • Protect the victim from further bites – move them away from the area of the snake.
  • Reassure the victim and keep him still.   Have them lie down with the wound below the heart.
  • Set up for shock and force fluids or give by intravenous (IV) means.
  • Remove watches, rings, bracelets, or other constricting items.
  • Allow the bite to bleed cleanly for 15-30 seconds and then clean the bite area.
  • Maintain an airway (especially if bitten near the face or neck) and be prepared to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or CPR.
  • Use a constricting band between the wound and the heart. Wrap the bandage 2-4 inches above the bite to slow the spread of venom.  Make the bandage loose enough that you can slip a finger under it.
  • Immobilize the site.
  • Remove the poison as soon as possible by using a mechanical suction device. Do not squeeze the site of the bite and do not make cuts over the wound.
  • Sit calmly for 20-30 minutes to allow the venom to localize at the site.
  • Proceed to the hospital.

NOTE: If medical treatment is over 1 hour away, make an incision (no longer than 6 millimeters [1/4 inch] and no deeper than 3 millimeters [1/8 inch]) over each puncture, cutting just deep enough to enlarge the fang opening, but only through the first or second layer of skin. Place a suction cup over the bite so that you have a good vacuum seal. Suction the bite site 3 to 4 times. Suction for a MINIMUM of 30 MINUTES. Use mouth suction only as a last resort and only if you do not have open sores in your mouth. Spit the envenomed blood out and rinse your mouth with water. This method will draw out 25 to 30 percent of the venom.

What NOT to do

You should also remember four very important guidelines during the treatment of snakebites. Do not give the victim alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. Never give atropine! Give morphine or other central nervous system (CNS) depressors.  Do not make any deep cuts at the bite site. Cutting opens capillaries may open a direct route into
the blood stream for venom and infection.

Here are other misconceptions and things that you should NOT do:

  • No ice or any other type of cooling on the bite. Research has shown this to be potentially harmful. The same applies for  hot  packs.
  • No tourniquets. This cuts blood flow completely and may result in loss of the affected limb.
  • No electric shock. This method is under study and has yet to be proven effective. It could harm the victim.
  • Do not eat or drink anything unless advised by medical sources.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical activity.
  • Do not drink any alcohol or use any medication.
  • Do not apply oral (mouth) suction to bite.
  • Do not remove dressings/elastic wraps until arrival at hospital and antivenin available.
  • Do not waste time or take any risks trying to kill or catch (to bring in) the snake responsible for the bite.
  • Do not put your hands on your face or rub your eyes, as venom may be on your hands. Venom may cause blindness.  Break open the large blisters that form around the bite site.

Care after the Snake Bite

After caring for the victim as described above, take the following actions to minimize local effects:

  • If infection appears, keep the wound open and clean.
  • Use heat after 24 to 48 hours to help prevent the spread of local infection. Heat also helps to draw out an infection.
  • Keep the wound covered with a dry, sterile dressing.
  • Have the victim drink large amounts of fluids until the infection is gone.
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