Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Snake Bites

Part 2: Venomous Snakes

First things first: stay away from venomous snakes. If you aren't qualified to work with them, leave them alone. Most reported bites from venous snakes are the result of an attempt to catch or kill the snake. If you find a venomous snake in your home or yard (or if you don't know if it is venomous), call an animal removal expert.

The best medicine is prevention.
  • Wear long pants and boots when walking or working in areas with tall grass, brush, debris or anywhere else a snake might hide.
  • Make plenty of noise and take heavy steps.
  • Watch where you sit.
  • Never put your hands or feet where you can't see. Be careful stepping over logs or other obstacles.
  • If you see a snake and you are not absolutely sure it is non-venomous leave it alone! Give the snake a chance to escape or go around it.
With that said...

What should I do if a venomous snake bites me?
  • Remain calm. You don't want to elevate your heart rate.
  • Get away from the snake. 
  • Call 911 and request help. If you can identify the snake, tell the 911 operator.
  • Keep the area of the bite below the level of your heart.
  • Remove jewelry and constrictive clothing from the area of the bite to avoid tissue damage due to swelling.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • Treat for shock if necessary.
  • If the snake is an elapid (the coral snake is the only elapid the naturally occurs in North America), apply a pressure bandage above the bite.
  • Do not cut and suck. Don't use store-bought snake bite kits.
  • If the snake is dead, show it to emergency personnel or take a picture. Be aware, though, that snakes may continue to move and can even bite hours after they are killed.

Is it going to hurt?

Yes. It's going to hurt alot.

What are the effects of a venomous snake bite?

Pit vipers (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, etc.) for the most part have a primarily hemotoxic venom. Envenomation causes intense pain, swelling and necrosis (tissue death), hemorrhaging, organ failure and breakdown of blood cells and vessels. Heart attack and difficulty breathing are possible.

Elapids (coral snakes, cobras, etc.) have a primarily neurotoxic venom that may or may not cause pain, swelling and necrosis. Difficulty breathing is common and respiratory failure may result. 

Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, fainting, cold or clammy skin and accelerated heart rate.
Anaphylactic shock and infection are also possible.

How dangerous is a venomous snake bite?

Very few people in North America die from snake bites. Most fatalities occur in young children, elderly and people in poor health. All bites should be considered as serious, however, and treated as such. Even non-fatal bites usually leave some tissue damage and scarring, which may be very severe. Amputations are sometimes necessary.

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