What to do for Snakebites

Poisonous snakes bite about 8,000 people in the United States each year. About nine to twelve of the victims die.

Snakebites should always be considered a medical emergency. Even bites from so-called harmless snakes can cause an infection or allergic reaction in some people. Rattlesnake bites can cause a great deal of pain, even when they are not lethal. Coral snakes, found primarily in the tropics and southern United States, release a neurotoxin that can paralyze the victim’s respiratory system and possibly cause death.

If needed, doctors use antivenin to neutralize the toxic venom the snake injects into the victim’s body. But, according to an article in the November 1995 issue of FDA Consumer , there are first-aid steps you should take if you, your companions or fellow workers are bitten.

  • Wash the bite with soap and water.
  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
  • Get to a doctor or a hospital without delay for a professional evaluation of the bite and proper treatment.

FDA Consumer magazine says it is also important to know what not to do for a snakebite.

  • Do not apply ice or any other kind of cooling agent to a bite. This can increase blood circulation to the affected area, and thus increase the spread of the venom.
  • Do not use a tourniquet. If you cut off the flow of blood completely, the victim may lose a limb.
  • Do not cut into the bite to get the venom out. Experience has shown that this is not useful and may cause additional injury.

If your activities place you in an environment where there may be snakes, consider wearing heavy jeans and boots that cover the ankles. They can protect against snakebites. When outdoors, never reach under or behind rocks where snakes often lie, or anywhere you can’t see.

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