Summer is the season for outdoor adventures; unfortunately we aren’t the only ones enjoying the warmer temperatures. The vast majority of snakebite injuries occur between April and October when both snakes and humans are at their most active. According to the United States Department of Agriculture venomous snakes bite about 8,000 people each year.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife department lists four types of venomous snakes that can be found in the state of Texas including coral snakes, which are members of the cobra family and copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes, which are all members of the pit viper family.
Pit vipers employ a hemotoxin in order to subdue and kill their prey. Hemotoxins destroy red blood cells and cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage. The depletion of red blood cells limits the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, which impacts the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. The lungs have to exert extra effort just to maintain the body’s oxygen supply and can lead to breathlessness. The toxin also inhibits the blood’s ability to properly clot which can lead to uncontrollable bleeding.
When enjoying the great outdoors there are a few precautions you should keep in mind.
- Avoid tall grass- Snakes like to hide in tall grass, weeds, and heavy underbrush.
- Never put your hand where you can’t see- Do not reach into brush, under logs, or lift rocks. Snakes like to hide in these areas. If you have to remove a rock or log, use gloves and roll it towards you. This gives anything beneath it the opportunity to escape in the opposite direction.
- Look before you leap… or step- Always watch where you are going! Be careful not to step in holes or between crevices in rocks. If there is a rock or fallen log in your path step up onto it instead of over it where a snake could be hiding on the other side.
- Shake before you sleep- If you are camping under the stars, be sure to shake out sleeping bags before use.
- Not always a warning- It’s important to remember that not all rattlesnakes will rattle before they strike!
- Don’t handle snakes- Never touch or pick up a freshly killed snake, it can still inject venom after death.
First Aid Myths
There are many myths surrounding the first aid treatment of venomous snakebites. Separating fact from fiction could help you save a life.
- Do NOT use a tourniquet- Never use a tourniquet on snakebites. A tourniquet will cut off blood supply to the affected area and will cause tissue to die. This can lead to amputation of the limb. It can also contribute to the formation of dangerous blood clots.
- Do NOT cut into the snakebite- Leave the snakebite alone; never try to cut away the bitten area. Cutting into the area can significantly damage already traumatized tissue.
- Do NOT put ice or a cold compress on the wound- This can actually make the injury worse and in some cases it can increase necrosis.
- Do NOT try to suck the poison out- Never use your mouth to try and “suck” the poison out of the wound.
- Do NOT raise the bite above the heart- The affected area needs to be kept lower than the heart.
- Do NOT take pain relievers or other medications- Snakebites are painful, but never take pain relievers or other medications without medical advice.
Basic First Aid
The number one thing you need to remember when it comes to treating a snakebite is get to emergency care right away! Don’t wait to get treatment! On the same token though, frantic high-speed driving can put you and the victim at greater risk of an accident and increased heart rate. If a medical facility is more than 30 minutes away, keep the bite below the heart, and try to get to help as quickly as possible. These are some basic first aid tips for treating snakebites until help is found.
- Note the time of bite- If possible, try to note the time of the bite. This is important information medical professionals will need in order to track the poison.
- Keep calm- Easier said than done! It’s important to try and remain calm and keep the heart rate low. It is also important to keep still. Wild or erratic movements can cause the venom to travel more quickly though the body.
- Remove constrictive clothing or jewelry- The area around snakebites will rapidly swell in response to the venom. Take off watches, rings, clothing or anything that could constrict that swelling.
No matter what, snakebites always require immediate medical attention. The ER on Soncy is open 24/7 to care for you and your family no matter what pops up this summer.