Many people feel unprepared to deal with venomous snakebite, and
aren't sure what they should do if someone is bitten. The following
Dos and Don'ts will help you to be prepared for a snakebite emergency,
and may dispel some of the myths of snakebite treatment. Most
importantly, if you or someone you are with is bitten, remember to
call 911 right away!
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Snakebite Do's and Don'ts -- what to do in the event of snakebite
- Call 911 - get immediate medical help for any snakebite-
- Assume the snake was venomous unless you are 100% sure of the snake's identity. This is especially important when children or elderly people are bitten.
- After you call 911, call the Poison Control Center's National Hotline - 1-800-222-1222, give them the name of the hospital where the victim will be taken, and request that a toxicologist contact the hospital to ensure the best possible care.
- If you are 100% positive that the bite is from a non-venomous snake, wash the bite gently with soap and warm water, and call your family doctor or non-emergency veterinarian to schedule an appointment for a check-up - snakes have many harmful bacteria in their mouths, and your doctor may want to prescribe an antibiotic.
- Get the victim away from the snake-
- Avoid multiple bites - this is especially important for dogs, since they may not immediately back away from the snake.
- Don't waste time trying to identify, catch, or kill the snake. It isn't necessary to confirm the identification of the snake to ensure proper treatment.
- Keep the victim warm, as comfortable as possible, and offer reassurance-
- Keep a record of the victim's symptoms and be aware of any
- Record the time of the bite
- Note symptoms and their timing -- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, redness, numbness, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, etc.
- Document any first aid measures administered since the bite.
- Notify the doctor of any allergies (drug, food, or animal) or medical conditions the victim may have.
- Remove bracelets, rings, and constrictive clothing-swelling is likely
- Keep the bitten extremity (hand, arm, foot, leg) lower than the victim's heart
- Wash the bite wound with soap and water- but DO NOT delay medical care
DO NOT --
- Most importantly, DO NOT wait to seek medical attention; call
Your cell phone is your best snakebite kit.
- Do not wait for symptoms to develop- get help immediately!
- Do not apply "traditional" remedies- they can cause more
- Do not apply ice, heat, a tourniquet or electric shock
- Do not attempt to make an "X" incision and suck out the venom.
- Do not allow the victim to take any stimulants (such as caffeine) or drink alcohol -- these substances will speed up the effects of the venom
- Venom extractors, such as the Sawyer Extractor ® may help slightly if applied within 5 minutes of the bite and used for 30 minutes. This is NOT a substitute for proper medical care!
- Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake- this will probably result in another bite and isn't necessary to ensure proper treatment. There are 2 basic types of antivenin - for Coral Snakes or pit vipers (rattlesnakes, Cottonmouth, Copperhead). A basic description of the snake may be helpful, the doctor will be able to decide which antivenin to use based on the victim's symptoms.
- Do not handle "dead" venomous snakes -- even decapitated snakes. Snakes presumed to be dead can inject venom by reflex biting -- one study found that rattlesnake heads were dangerous up to an hour after decapitation!