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Snakebite

Outlook

Although the vast majority of victims bitten by venomous snakes in the United States do very well, predicting the prognosis in any individual case can be difficult. Despite the fact that there may be as many as 8000 bites by venomous snakes, there are fewer than 10 deaths, and most of these fatal cases do not seek care for one reason or another. It is rare for someone to die before they are able to reach medical care in the United States. The majority of snakes are not poisonous if they bite. If you are bitten by a nonvenomous snake, you will recover. The possible complications of a nonvenomous bite include a retained tooth in the puncture wounds or a wound infection (including tetanus). Snakes do not carry or transmit rabies.

 

Not all bites by venomous snakes result in venom poisoning. In more than 20% of bites by rattlesnakes and moccasins, for example, no venom is injected. These so-called dry bites are even more common with bites by some of the elapids. Dry bites have the same complications as nonvenomous snakebites.

A victim who is very young, old, or has other diseases may not tolerate the same amount of venom as well as a healthy adult. The availability of emergency medical care and, most important, antivenom can affect how well the victim does.

Serious venom effects can be delayed for hours. A victim who initially appears well could still become quite sick. All victims possibly bitten by a venomous snake should seek medical care without delay.

Multimedia

Media file 1: Snakebite. King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), a dangerous Asian elapid and longest of the venomous snakes at around 4 m (13 ft). Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 2: Snakebite. Black mamba (Dendraspis polylepis), an extremely fast, large, and dangerous African elapid. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 3: Snakebite. Coral snake (Micrurus fulvius), a shy American elapid that accounts for only about 1% of venomous snakebites in the United States. Recognize it by this catch phrase: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow." Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 4: Snakebite. Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), a harmless mimic of the coral snake. "Red on black, venom lack," although this old saying becomes unreliable south of the United States. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 5: Snakebite. Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), an American pit viper, with rattle vibrating. This is one of the most dangerous snakes of North America. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 6: Snakebite. Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), American pit viper, caught yawning after a big meal. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

Snakebite - Photo

Media type: Photo

Media file 7: Snakebite. Cottonmouth or water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorous), American pit viper usually found in or near water. Photograph by Joe McDonald.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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