In America, there are roughly about 5 deaths per year from snake bites. But, that is the outcome of several thousand bites from venomous snake bites each year. In fact, venomous snakes kill fewer people than insects do. So, experts tell us that our risk of dying from a venomous snakebite is slim, unless you happen to be one of those 5 people. I am of the opinion that surviving or preventing a snakebite is probably more pleasant than a slow painful death.
There are only four groups of venomous snakes found in the wild in the continental United States- rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. Only about 20% of snakes in the US are venomous. But, one or more venomous snakes can be found almost everywhere in the continental United States.
SYMPTOMS OF A POISONOUS SNAKEBITE
After a bite from a venomous snake, you may suffer a severe burning pain at the site of the bite, within 15-30 minutes. A snakebite may also cause swelling all the way up your arm or leg. Other symptoms include nausea, trouble breathing, and weakness, and maybe a metallic or other odd taste in the mouth. Some snakes have toxins that cause neurological symptoms, such as skin tingling, numbness, and difficulty speaking.
The venom could cause you to pass out, leading to a fall and additional injuries. The venom may also disrupt your blood clotting ability, making any injuries that much worse. Swelling from the venom may turn rings or jewelry into tourniquets, that are impossible to remove, cutting off blood flow to body parts.
Sometimes, a venomous snake will bite without injecting venom. The is called a”dry bite”, and usually only irritates the skin.
HOW TO PREVENT A SNAKEBITE
Wear high-top boots and long pants when hiking.
Always look where you are putting your hands and feet.
Don’t stick your hand in holes. Don’t turn over rocks.
Don’t step over logs.
Remain beyond the snake’s striking distance.
Even a dead snake, with its head chopped off, can still bite.
HOW TO SURVIVE A VENOMOUS SNAKEBITE
Back away and move beyond the snake’s striking distance. Pit vipers often try to strike again.
Find a safe place to sit down, in case your blood pressure drops and you pass out.
Remain calm and still to help slow the spread of the venom.
Remove jewelry, watches, and any tight clothing before your limb begins to swell.
I possible, position the bite so that it is at or below the level of your heart to slow the spread of the venom. Of course, if you get bit in the chest or the head, that’s a whole nother ballgame.
Don’t use a tourniquet, apply ice, or take pain relievers.
Don’t cut the wound or try to remove the venom.
Don’t drink any caffeine or alcohol, as it could speed the flow of venom through your body.
Clean the bite with soap and water, to remove any venom near the surface, and cover it with clean, dry dressing. Some experts, however, say don’t wash the wound, because the bite might aid in identifying the snake.
Experts disagree as to whether it is better to remain still and sit until help arrives, or to get off your bottom and get yourself to medical treatment as fast as you can.
Experts disagree on whether or not to wrap or splint the affected limb.
About half a century ago, my dad got bit by a copperhead on his pinky finger. He followed the common advise of that time, and put a tourniquet around his finger, slit it open, and tried to suck out the venom, before going to the hospital. Afterwards, some old-timers told him of a better treatment for snakebites. Kill a chicken, cut it in half, and place one half against the snakebite, and it would draw out the venom. They were serious.
IDENTIFYING THE SNAKE FOR PROPER TREATMENT
Don’t try to capture the snake for identification, as it could bite you again, injecting more venom. But, rather try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it. Better yet, if you have a cellphone, take a picture of the snake from a safe distance to help with the identification.
Many snakebites are diagnosed by the severity of your symptoms. If you have a pen or marker when you get bit, circle the bite and write the time of the attack. Then, about every 30 minutes, or as symptoms develop, record your symptoms. Also record the time and progression of your swelling and other symptoms. This information might be particularly helpful in case you lose consciousness.