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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Snake Bite First-Aid

Learn the steps to take if you're bitten by a poisonous snake.

by: Annette McGivney


Of the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 poisonous snake bites that occur in the United States each year, there are only five to eight fatalities. The reason: Snakes don't want to waste their precious venom. They prefer to save it for something useful, like killing rodents they can then eat. Most human strikes are merely defensive in nature and leave behind just enough venom-the process is known as envenomization-to make you sick. Keep in mind that any amount of snake venom is life threatening to young children. Parents who take children hiking should be especially cautious in snake country.

If you or someone in your party is struck by a poisonous snake, better safe than sorry: Get to a medical facility. Administering antivenin is the only successful treatment. Longtime folk remedies like giving the person whiskey or the old "cut-and-suck" method (slicing the bite with a knife and sucking out the poison with your mouth) only make the victim's condition worse.

For the hike out to the car, immobilize the bitten extremity with a splint, and if possible, carry the victim to the trailhead. If you can't carry the person, he'll have to hike out on his own. It takes at least 2 hours for the symptoms of envenomization to take effect. Watch for signs of shock (heavy sweating, clammy skin, shallow breathing), since the fear of having been bitten is often more dangerous than the bite.

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Victoria Marie Lees
Jul 30, 2012

I found the essay as well as a few of the comments very informative. I was looking for an estimate of the time limit as to how long a trail hiker could last before he got to the hospital. Thanks, Victoria Marie Lees

SJohnson
Jul 18, 2012

I feel very tricked! I literally thought it would be a first aid kit to make with the kids before going berry picking, if you want to write a article like this at least don't give it a misleading name!

Stephen
Mar 05, 2012

This article, along with every other I've seen, only gives the advice, "Get to a medical facility" WHICH ISN'T HELPFUL IN BACKPACKING! What the heck am I supposed to do if I CAN'T get to a medical facility in a day or two or three? I live in Alabama and we are packed full of venomous snakes in the hills, of which I snakes on many of my long hikes. Any help or links?

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if i get a snake bite i can use this

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Ephraim Franklin
Oct 01, 2011

Yes, I agree with Tom, well; because either he researched he talked about or is really a professional. Also, it is a pretty logical article. You've heard the saying, what people don't understand they fear. Well, I believe it's that ignorance that could put them at even more danger in such an environment with the object of their fear. There is a differnce between careful and afraid. And even if one is careful and still gets bitten they need to have learned to be calm under said circumstances.

Ephraim Franklin
Oct 01, 2011

Yes, I agree with Tom, well; because either he researched he talked about or is really a professional. Also, it is a pretty logical article. You've heard the saying, what people don't understand they fear. Well, I believe it's that ignorance that could put them at even more danger in such an environment with the object of their fear. There is a differnce between careful and afraid. And even if one is careful and still gets bitten they need to have learned to be calm under said circumstances.

Anonymous
May 29, 2011

The "Sawyer extractor" if used in the first few minutes can increase a snake bit victims window of opportunity to get to medical help

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