All snakebites should be considered a serious emergency. There are nearly 50,000 people who are bitten by snakes in the United States each year. Of this number, around 8,000 involve poisonous snakes, with about 12 deaths recorded each year. Usually, signs and symptoms of fatal snakebite develop within several hours after being bitten. Although fatalities due to snakebite are very few, it is best to be prepared for such an emergency. Normally, if snakebite leads to death, it proceeds gradually, unless severe anaphylactic reaction develops. Most deaths caused by snakebites occur at least one to two days after being bitten.
Important Disclaimer: the material posted on this blog is for information purposes only. Learn about poisonings and other emergency situations by enrolling in first aid courses (more information here).
Types of poisonous snakes
In North America, there are two types of predominant poisonous snakes: neurotoxic (nerve poisons) snakes and pit vipers. Coral snakes are the most common neurotoxic snakes and are considered the most lethal because of the strength and concentration of the venom. Meanwhile, pit vipers include cotton-mouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes. There are also many Canadians who have a wide variety snakes as pets. These snakes can also cause snakebites.
Since people may react differently to snakebites, all snakebite cases should be considered very seriously and should be given immediate medical treatment. Keeping the victim calm and relaxed is critical. Normally, poisoning from venom occurs gradually, giving you enough time to transport the victim.
Unless the snake is positively identified as non-poisonous, all snakebites must be considered as potentially poisonous. Take note, the victim or bystanders could be mistaken so you have to make sure that the snakebite is positively identified by an expert. If the snake is captured or killed, it should be brought to the local poison control center for proper identification. However, never delay or postpone care of victim in order to capture the snake.
Signs and symptoms
Snakebites may result in the following signs and symptoms:
- Obvious bite on the skin (can be discolouration)
- Pain and swelling of bitten area
- Difficulty breathing and rapid pulse
- Progressive body weakness
- Dim or blurred vision
- Drowsiness or change in consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Seizures or convulsions
- Ensure safety of victim. Keep the victim calm and warm.
- Observe for signs of shock; be ready to provide treatment for shock.
- Call 911 or local emergency service and local poison control centre. Be ready to listen and carry out instructions.
- Check for other injuries and provide first aid.
- Look for the fang marks and clean with soap and water. Usually, poisonous snakes only have one to two fang marks.
- Remove any constricting items (such as rings, bracelets, anklets) on the bitten extremity.
- Keep the bitten extremity immobilized by using splints. Try to keep the bitten area at the heart level or below the heart level.
- Use a light constricting band above and below the bitten area to limit flow of lymph, not the flow of blood.
- Transport the victim to the nearest healthcare facility for proper treatment.
- Continuously monitor the victim; provide reassurance.
Here are some important things to remember:
- Do not apply cold pack or ice bag on the wound unless instructed to do so.
- Do not cut the wound and squeeze or suction unless instructed to do so.
- Never try to suck the venom from the wound using your mouth.