What to do if you are bitten by a snake

December 1, 2010, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Should you be the victim of a snakebite, the best thing you can do is get to a hospital as quickly as possible, according to a new review article from the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS). Current medical treatments, including new medications and surgery, if necessary, are far more effective for snakebites than anything you can do on your own.

"Previous generations of antivenin medications were notorious for causing negative systemic reactions," says Adam W. Anz, MD, an at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC. "But the antivenins we have available today can not only help avoid long-term damage from the venom, but they can also prevent the need for more invasive medical treatment."

Snakebite symptoms can range from pain, swelling, and bruising to an , paralysis, and muscle twitching.

Surgery is very rarely, yet sometimes necessary to treat damage incurred from a snakebite, in cases where severe swelling compromises blood flow. This is not the only reason that orthopaedic surgeons are often consulted on these types of injuries.

"Orthopaedic surgeons are experts in regard to treating the extremities, and the hands and feet are the parts of the body most often bitten by snakes," says Dr. Anz. "This is why it is important for orthopaedic surgeons and the public to know about the effects of venom and the best ways to treat snakebites."

Tips for avoiding snakebites:

  • Understand the types of environments where people are likely to encounter snakes. For example, wooded areas with deep piles of leaves or stacks of wood are frequently home to snakes.
  • If you encounter a snake, get away from it. Do not attempt to pick it up or threaten its safety in any way. More than half of all bites occur when people interact inappropriately with snakes.
If you are bitten:
  • Identify the type of snake if possible. If a smartphone or other camera is available, take a photo of the snake and bring it with you to the hospital.
  • Get away from the snake.
  • Do not attempt to suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet unless you have a great deal of knowledge about snakes and the effects of snakebites. For some types of venom, a tourniquet can actually do more harm than good.
  • Immobilize the affected body part.
  • Remove all rings or restrictive jewelry on the affected limb, since snakebites often cause swelling.
  • Get to a hospital or healthcare facility as quickly as you can. Do not wait and watch for symptoms.
Relevant facts and statistics:
  • Approximately 45,000 snakebite injuries are reported annually in the United States.
  • Seventy to 80 percent of snakebites occur in males.
  • More than half of snakebites are to the hand(s).
  • Most snakebites result from intentional exposure, whether in a professional context (e.g., snake handling) or nonprofessional context (e.g., playing with snakes in the wild).
  • Alcohol consumption is involved in the majority of bites, resulting from risky behavior.
  • The high correlation between alcohol use and hand injury implies that bites occur when the victim is behaving in an unsafe manner, not when he or she is attempting to evade the snake.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Group suggests pushing age of adolescence to 24

January 22, 2018
A small group of researchers with the Royal Children's Hospital in Australia is suggesting that it might be time to change the span of years that define adolescence—from the current 10 to 19 to a proposed 10 to 24 years ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Yellowdart
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
Wow 80% occur in males? I guess males are the only ones dumb enough to poke it...

Oh..it does say they are usually drunk too lol.

Yeah, get to the hospital quickly, but dont run...keep your heart rate low. Wanna keep that stuff as slow moving as possible toward your heart.
DickWilhelm
not rated yet Dec 01, 2010
Hey Bubba, I bet you can't pick that rattlesnake up by the tail ;)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.