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Snakebite

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Prevention

The snake is almost always more scared of you than you are of the snake. Giving the snake the opportunity to escape prevents most bites.

  • Do not attempt to handle, capture, or tease venomous snakes or snakes of unknown identity.

  • Snakebites are often associated with alcohol use. Alcohol intake can weaken your inhibitions, making it more likely that you might attempt to pick up a snake. Alcohol also decreases your coordination, increasing the probability of a mishap.

  • If you are outdoors, you can help prevent significant bites by wearing boots while hiking. Long pants can reduce the severity of a bite. When in snake country, be cautious where you place your hands and feet (for example, when gathering firewood or collecting berries), and never walk barefooted after dark.

  • If your occupation or hobby exposes you to dangerous snakes on a regular basis, preplanning before a potential bite may save your life. Since not every physician is familiar with snakebites and not every hospital has or knows how to obtain antivenom, providing information regarding the type of snake, type of venom, and the procurement and use of antivenom can help the medical staff treat you.

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.

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