Those who live, work and play in the outdoors are told to bring a snake bite kit. As our knowledge about snakes and their venom has advanced we’ve come to learn not only are these kits useless in treating venomous snake bites, but they can do more harm than good. The usual contents of a snake bite kit include:
- Suction cup(s) – Intended to suck out the venom
- Scalpel – For making incisions around the area of the bite so that suction can work better
- Tourniquet/Compression device – Used to restrict the flow of blood from the bite area to slow down the spread of venom
- Anti-septic swabs – To clean around the bite and wherever a scalpel might be used
- A suction cup will remove less than 1/1000th of the venom. They have been shown to cause necrosis around the bite. Sucking the venom out by mouth is worse. You can potentially become envenomated through open sores in your mouth or even through the mucus membrane.
- Scalpel (cutting)
- This will only cause further damage and greater risk for infection.
- Tourniquet/Compression device
- The application of a tourniquet has been proven to do more harm than good. There is a risk of gangrene developing and in most cases it does nothing to slow the spread of venom.
- Anti-septic swabs
- While these are not necessarily harmful they serve no purpose in treating snake bites.
Now that you’ve seen what not to do how about we talk about effective treatment for snake bites.
- Protect yourself, the victim, and anyone involved
- A snake can and will bite multiple times if cornered and feeling threatened. Get yourself and everyone else out of the area where the bite occurred. Move calmly but rapidly and watch for other snakes in the area. It is not unheard of for more than one venomous snake to be in one place.
If possible and safe make a positive identification of the snake. The proper treatment depends on it. Normally I wouldn’t advocate killing a snake, but if someone has been bit and you can’t be one hundred percent certain as to the kind of snake, AND you can do so safely killing the snake and collecting it would not be a bad idea. If you do this be VERY careful. Even snakes that have been decapitated have been known to bite.
- Remain calm
- Venom, regardless of if it is hemotoxic or neurotoxic spreads through the body and various organs by the blood. The more stressed a person is the faster the heart beats and the quicker the venom spreads. You must remain as calm as you possibly can.
- Call for help
- Once everyone is safe contacting help is the first priority. Rapid transport of envenomated victims is the standard operating procedure for nearly all medical response units in the world. They will also know where to take the person to receive the proper treatment. Not all hospitals carry antivenin and those that do usually only have it for local species. So if you are bit by an exotic species from a private collection it might be harder to find.
You can arrange to meet the ambulance on the way. Give the dispatcher you location, type/description of vehicle you are driving, and planned route of travel. If someone aside from the victim can drive they should.
- Keep the bite below the heart
- This will help slow the spread of venom through the body. If it is a limb such as hand or finger that has been bit try to put it in the functional position
- Avoid food or drink
- Food and drink will cause the venom to spread faster. Especially do not give alchol because it causes more venom to be absorbed into surrounding tissue.
- Do not give medication
- Giving medication can cause more harm than good. If a doctor directs you to give medication do so, but otherwise don’t. Not even medicine for pain management
- Loosen or remove clothing
- In almost all cases snake bites result in swelling of the tissue around the bite and the formation of blisters. Keeping the area free of restriction will make the victim more comfortable and make it easier to work on the damaged area. Keep in mind that medical professionals will almost always cut away clothing to gain better access to assess the patient.