First Aid for Snake Bites

images (1)    Although snakes are common reptiles in most U.S. environments, the fact is that most snake species are not venomous and, of the species that are venomous, a bite from most of these species is not commonly fatal. For instance, Rattle Snakes, Copperhead snakes, and Cottonmouth snakes are all common poisonous snake species in the U.S. and, while a bite from either of these species is certainly painful and will definitely make a victim extremely ill, their bites are not often fatal. However, there is one species of snake common to the Southern regions of the U.S. called a Coral Snake that injects a neurotoxin that is often fatal. Also, it should be noted that Coral Snakes have bands of coloring that consist of red, yellow, and black bands that appear very similar to those of a Milk Snake. However, a common mnemonic for identifying these two species is “Red and black; friend of Jack. Red and Yellow; killer fellow” which means that if the red and black bands are adjacent, then you are seeing a Milk Snake but, if the red and yellow bands are adjacent, then you are seeing Coral Snake.

Fortunately, poisonous snakes are easily identified as such because all poisonous snakes have glands located at the back of their jaws that produce and contain the poison and thus, all poisonous snakes have wedge-shaped heads that are noticeably wider at the back than at the front whereas, all non-poisonous snakes have oval shaped heads that are either the same width at the back as they are at the front or only a little wider at the back than at the front. However, the fact is that most species of snakes are non-aggressive reptiles and thus, they will only bite animals larger than themselves in self defense. However, even a non-poisonous snake will bite to defend itself if it feels sufficiently threatened.

But, in the event that a person is bitten by a poisonous snake, it is imperative that immediate action be taken to mitigate the effects of the poison. Therefore, the first step in treating a snake bite is to slow the spread of the poison to the lymphatic system by first washing away any venom left on the surface of the skin with water and soap if it is available. Next, a restricting band such as a piece of cord, rope, or nylon strap or, even a person’s waist belt should be placed around the bitten limb well above the bite but, it should only be tightened to the point where it slows the flow of blood; not restricts it in the manner of a tourniquet. Next, the wound should be kept below the level of the victim’s heart and then placed in cold water or packed with snow to further slow the spread of the poison.

However, contrary to popular belief, under no circumstances should a person open the wound and attempt to suck out the poison either orally or via use of a suction cup! Also, it should be noted that any such injury will almost certainly cause the victim to enter a state of shock and thus, those treating the bite should also be prepared to treat the victim for shock and to possibly administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if necessary. Then, once the above mentioned steps have been taken to mitigate the effects of the poison, the victim should be transported to a local hospital as soon as possible for treatment. Furthermore, it is very important the particular species of snake be correctly identified so that a qualified doctor will be able to prepare and administer the correct anti-venom.

However, in the event that the victim cannot be transported to a hospital due to a remote location, there are several herbal remedies that can be applied. For instance, poultices made from Tobacco leaves or the roots of the Rattlesnake-Master plant (aka Button Snakeroot), Downy Rattlesnake-Plantain, Whorled Milkweed, and Seneca Snakeroot can help to draw out the poison and tisanes, tinctures, and essential oils made from the Echinacea plant help to strengthen the immune system and thus, lessen the effects of the poison.

Of course the best remedy is always prevention. Therefore, anyone who spends time outdoors during the warm months of the year should be aware of the various species of poisonous snakes that inhabit their location and be on the lookout for them. Last, carrying an emergency locator beacon with you at all times is also a wise idea since these devices will enable you to summon emergency help to even a remote location since they operate by emitting an S.O.S. signal to a network of specialized satellites orbiting the Earth as well as to any passing private, commercial, or military aircraft which is then relayed to local recue agencies along with your position.

Written by,

Bill Bernhardt

Outdoor Professional

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PS: Be prepared for any survival medical emergency with this.


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