Snake bite is something that almost everybody fears, and it is this fear that causes many people to stay indoors rather than go out for a hike on a trail. The reality is that your chances of encountering a snake in North America to begin with are low and your chances of being bitten are significantly lower. But if you or a member of your group are bitten on a hiking trip, it’s important to know how to successfully treat a snake bite victim and that’s what this article is all about.
The good news is that the vast majority of snake species in North America are not venomous to humans. The venomous snakes that are here in North America bite just under ten thousand people every year, and only around ten or so of those people end up succumbing to the bite. But even though this figure may seem small, it does not mean that you should believe snakes are not a threat. A snake’s venom may be intended for prey, such as rodents and birds, but if they are provoked or feel threatened by humans they can attack with a life-threatening bite.
How To Prevent Snake Bites
As a general rule of thumb, do not disturb or provoke a snake that you find in the wilderness regardless of whether it is poisonous or not. This advice may seem like something that anybody would take for granted, but it’s still something to be reminded of. The snake will act in self-defense if it’s disturbed enough and can leave enough venom to threaten your life.
Hopefully you won’t run into any snakes to begin with. You can do this by avoiding habitats that snakes prefer, such as tall grass and underneath large rocks. Wear long pants and boots that go past your ankles.
Still, you should be prepared for a scenario where either you or someone in your group is bitten by a poisonous snake. If you are prepared, then you’ll know exactly what to do in such a situation and you can likely save somebody’s life.
Symptoms Of Snake Bites
The follow are common symptoms of a snake bite:
- Fang Marks
- Swelling Around the Affected Area
- Extreme Pain
- Burning Sensation
- High Fever
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Poor Muscle Coordination
- Blurry Vision/Dizziness
The DO’s And Don’ts
The first thing to do when you or someone in your group is bitten by a snake is to call for emergency help immediately so you can receive professional medical aid as soon as possible. If the snake bite is treated properly, the victim will not be left with severe injuries.
But if professional medical help is not in reach, then you’ll have to take matters into your own hands. Here are the do’s and don’ts of dealing with snake bites:
The Do’s of Handling a Snake Bite
- Do remove yourself from striking distance of the snake
- Do keep the victim calm, quiet, and still by having them lay down
- Do get the heart rate of the victim under control by keeping their bitten limb at or beneath the level of their heart
- Do remove any jewelry or clothing that restricts blood circulation to the affected area in any way
- Do keep the movement of the victim to a bare minimal, especially around their affected area
- Do allow the snake bite to bleed for at least thirty seconds before you treat it
- Do unlike most open wounds, don’t flush the snake bite wound with water; you should clean it and remove any debris to prevent infection, but after that simply cover it with a clean dressing
- Do apply a splint to the broken limb so that the victim will keep movement of the bite area to a minimal, including if they are panicking
- Do try to identify the snake if you can so that you can inform medical professionals of the type; this way, they will more easily know the type of anti-venom to use when you bring the victim to medical help
- Do apply a bandana soaked in cool water over the victim’s head to bring sweating down
The Don’ts of Handling a Snake Bite
- Don’t try to suck the venom out with your mouth; this is a myth of treating snake bites that is commonly seen in movies and entertainment, but that in reality only endangers the person sucking out the venom
- Don’t wrap a tourniquet over the snake bite wound, as this is another huge myth when it comes to treating snake bites; if you restrict blood flow to the affected area, the venom will begin killing all cells in the area, but if it is allowed to spread the toxin will become diluted and its potency reduced
- Don’t apply a cool bandana or anything similar to the snake bite; doing so will only limit the circulation of blood to the area and could potentially make the venom deadlier if it becomes cool
- Don’t cut near, around, or over the bite marks; doing so only increases the risk of an infection and very likely won’t cut out all of the venom
- Don’t try to kill the snake; this is a waste of time and you only run the risk of another member in your group getting bitten
Getting bitten by a snake may be a nightmare for many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s certainly something that can turn your otherwise fine day of hiking out in nature into the direct opposite. But as long as you treat the snake bite the right way, by following the do’s and don’ts that we have listed out in this article, the venom can be overcome. That’s why referencing the statistic that we pointed out earlier in this article, the overwhelming majority of individuals who are bitten by a snake will survive.