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Snakes Not So Charming in the Wild

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Nor does Kitchens feel that people hiking or camping in the wilderness need worry about snakebites. He's often asked to provide snakebite kits for people planning to walk the Appalachian Trail.

 

"I tell them you don't need a snakebite kit," he says. "Just don't mess with snakes."

 

But if a snake does bite you, Kitchens recommends forgoing field remedies like ice, tourniquets, or the cut-and-suck method made famous in movies. It's not that they don't work. It's just that if not done properly, he says, they can cause more harm than good. Instead, head for the nearest hospital.

 

"Antivenom works pretty damn good," Kitchens says. "Usually you walk away with [no injury] at all. Most people bitten repair pretty well."

 

Antivenom ideally should be administered within six hours after a bite, and no more than 12 hours. But most snakebite victims don't receive antivenom, Kitchen says. In fact, only 40% of those bitten by venomous snakes are given the serum. That's because most snake venom isn't that toxic.

 

For instance, Kitchens says, pygmy rattlesnake or copperhead bites aren't usually treated.

 

But antivenom is a lifesaver for the 10-15% of the people bitten by the highly toxic Eastern or Western diamondbacks. Still, the traditional horse-blood antivenom serum has its drawbacks.

 

"You can have an allergic reaction to the horse blood" used to make the antivenom, Kitchens says. "With horse-blood antivenom, 10% of the people will have an allergic reaction with hives, swelling, or shortness of breath."

 

The FDA recently approved a new sheep-blood-based antivenom, which Kitchens says he believes will be easier to use and significantly safer.

 

Bob Calandra is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in several magazines, including People and Life. He lives in Glenside, Penn.

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