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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?

bookgeegkgirl num 2
Feb 29, 2012

well i think its great!!!!!!!<3

watts
Feb 29, 2012

why do we have to have snkes


istar hashi
Feb 29, 2012

why do snakes bcome scavengers?

istar
Feb 29, 2012

i would def. be safe than sorry

john branham jr
Feb 28, 2012

if i get a snake bite i can use this

john branham jr
Feb 28, 2012

if i get a snake bite i can use this

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

bookgeekgirl
Jun 29, 2010

Seriously, Backpacker? What a useless article. I feel "tricked" into clicking on something that gave me no new info at all. As other comments have said -- I learned more from the comments than from the article itself. Maybe you should ask some of the commenters to write for you instead of Ms. McGivney!

Ryan
Jun 29, 2010

I have had patients use the charcoal poultice with good results for copperhead bites; however, I would add two additional items: large doses of Vit. C and Colloidal silver (oral and topical). The Vit. C has been shown in clinical studies to have a strong action of neutralizing toxins at 1000mg every hour up to tolerance, as well as boosting the immune system to help prevent infection. The colloidal silver has been touted as a cure-all, and reality isn't far off! It kills all known bacteria on contact and inactivates many viruses. It is well-known to also neutralize many types of toxins, including bee stings instantly. I do not go camping without it (nor without Jewel weed tincture for the bug bites and poison ivy). There has not been any clinical studies on silver for snake bites, but the biochemistry is well understood and theorized. I would certainly try it while out in the woods and on the way to get medical help.

Jeff Burns
Jun 28, 2010

Wow! was lookin for something new....Not all venomous snake bites will kill you...a significant number are dry hits if from and older snake. Young ones an babies haven't learned to control their venom release and their bites may be more dangerous.

Most women and kids are bit on the foot & ankle...more men get struck on the arm & face...the effect of that whiskey on the trail...bet you can't catch it or bet you won't kiss it.

steve
Jun 27, 2010

So, what did we learn from this article--not much! Even if one is close to the trail head it can then be as much as an hour drive to an ER. Go to the local vet it is the same antivenin but usually only $500.

Loren
Jun 25, 2010

I was not able to read all the comments but I saw nothing about a charcoal poultice. I have personally known a hikers that got bitten by a rattle snake and had no possibility of getting out in that time frame. He used a charcoal poultice and took 5 capsules every 2 hours for the next 8 hours with absolutely no side effects from the bites. It has also worked with our cat who would have died without the charcoal. We never leave home without it. It works, I would stake my life on it.

Jeremy Joslin, MD
Jun 25, 2010

Hello Editors,

I'm an Emergency & Wilderness Medicine Physician (not to mention loyal Backpack reader) and have tried to contact you directly in the past regarding advice columns such as this. If you would like the benefit of an expert's review. or more substantive information for pieces like this, please contact me: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremyjoslin.

Loren
Jun 25, 2010

I was not able to read all the comments but I saw nothing about a charcoal poultice. I have personally known a hikers that got bitten by a rattle snake and had no possibility of getting out in that time frame. He used a charcoal poultice and took 5 capsules every 2 hours for the next 8 hours with absolutely no side effects from the bites. It has also worked with our cat who would have died without the charcoal. We never leave home without it. It works, I would stake my life on it.

Stone Knives and Bear Skins
Jun 25, 2010

At the risk of being pedantic. A poison is any substance that when introduced to a living creatures causes death or injury, and venom is a poisonous liquid secreted by an animal. The mechanism of transfer is irrelevant. If I inject you with cyanide, then you have been poisoned, not envenomated; on the flip side, if my kid bites you, and the drool of death kills you by causing total nervous system failure, you've probably been envenomated. Regardless, dead is dead, does not matter what you call it unless your a coroner. Don't waste any time, but rather get medical help as soon as possible. If you are 20 miles from help and don't have a beacon, radio or cell to call for a car or helicopter ride, better luck in the next life...

Stone Knives and Bear Skins
Jun 25, 2010

At the risk of being pedantic. A poison is any substance that when introduced to a living creatures causes death or injury, and venom is a poisonous liquid secreted by an animal. The mechanism of transfer is irrelevant. If I inject you with cyanide, then you have been poisoned, not envenomated; on the flip side, if my kid bites you, and the drool of death kills you by causing total nervous system failure, you've probably been envenomated. Regardless, dead is dead, does not matter what you call it unless your a coroner. Don't waste any time, but rather get medical help as soon as possible. If you are 20 miles from help and don't have a beacon, radio or cell to call for a car or helicopter ride, better luck in the next life...

Tracey
Jun 25, 2010

Correction, my friend had twenty viles at $2,000 apiece. Her total treatment came to $250,000. An elderly woman, bitten twice and a very long hospital stay.

Tracey
Jun 25, 2010

The article gives the same advice that the herpetologists at the Sonoran-Desert Museum in Tucson, AZ give. Don't try to self treat, get to the ER as fast as possible. The most important device to have on hand in case of snake bite is a cell phone. A friend of mine was bitten in her back yard, a quarter million dollars in antivenon (at $2,000 a dose) was required to save her life.

Tracey
Jun 25, 2010

The article gives the same advice that the herpetologists at the Sonoran-Desert Museum in Tucson, AZ give. Don't try to self treat, get to the ER as fast as possible. The most important device to have on hand in case of snake bite is a cell phone. A friend of mine was bitten in her back yard, a quarter million dollars in antivenon (at $2,000 a dose) was required to save her life.

jamie
Jun 25, 2010

when did snakes become poisonous????

Tracy
Jun 25, 2010

Hike out and get to a medical facility? Gee, thanks for the stunning advice. What if I'm 20 miles from my vehicle and 2 hours until sunset? Is there nothing to be done at all? Very disappointing article.

Tracy
Jun 25, 2010

Hike out and get to a medical facility? Gee, thanks for the stunning advice. What if I'm 20 miles from my vehicle and 2 hours until sunset? Is there nothing to be done at all? Very disappointing article.

Jess
Jun 25, 2010

what do you do if you can't get to a hospital that quickly?

Tom from Chicago
Jun 25, 2010

C'mon now! What harm can come from a sip or two of whisky? It has soothed many a pain out in the mountains over the years.

Frank Mezo
Jun 25, 2010

This article could be really helpful, but is missing substance. The argument against "cut and suck" is that it causes local tissue damage and may or may not be effective. I think this is a logic thing. As someone said earlier, if the snake hits a vein you can suck the victim dry and it will not help at all. Likewise if you are within a couple of hours of a hospital then I would skip the cut and suck, because you are just wasting precious time. There are so many factors that would effect the envenomization. Type, size of snake, location of bite, mental status of victim, etc. However, if stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a survival situation, far from help, I would use this method. At that point what have you got to lose? Prior to the procedure, extra care will have to be taken to prevent infection from the bite site. The most important part that I have gotten from every survival class is to STAY CALM. Easier said than done I suppose, but will buy you more time than anything else. If you think about the mechanism of an intra-muscular injection this makes a lot of sense. Venom will be slowly absorbed into the blood stream from the injection site with a normal HR. If the victim goes into tachycardia (rapid HR, and the body dumps adrenaline (epinephrine), the peripheral vessels dilate and increase blood flow. This is just going to speed up the envenomization process. Calm, reassure, and move slow. Letting that venom be absorbed into the blood over a longer period of time increases the chance of just getting "sick" from the bite. Shooting a snake may not be the best idea depending on where you are. Could get you in trouble. Almost all of us have a point and shoot camera with us though. Try to snap a shot of the snake so you can show the doc when you get to the hospital. Plus, one of the key elements of going out into the wild is understanding that it is the wild. Do some research. What should I be careful of in this area? So many people are scared of this and that, but really don't understand the thing they fear. I am no fan of snakes, but I understand I am tromping around their home, and respect that. Keep them where you can see them, and don't try any crocodile hunter crap and you should be fine.

Tom from Chicago
Jun 25, 2010

Bill
Jun 25, 2010

This article is not helpful. It looks like it is just a "door buster" to get people to click on a link. I learned more from the comments.

carl gatlin
Jun 25, 2010

any--caps or t-shirts with the backpacker log for sale--thanks

Brian
Jun 25, 2010

Is it not important to identify the snake? How will the hospital know which antivenin to use?

Brian
Jun 25, 2010

Is it not important to identify the snake? How will the hospital know which antivenin to use?

Matt
Jun 25, 2010

There is no such thing as a poisonous snake. Snakes can be venomous but not poisonous.

It's venom rather than poison.
Jun 25, 2010

Hey, I know I'm being nit-picky but snakes are considered venomous not poisonous. Poison is inhaled or ingested but venom is injected.

Andrew Bender
Apr 26, 2008

It is also important to limit the blood flow from the extremity. As Dave mention in his responce; if you get bitten in a vein you have a limited amount of time and a greater chance of life or limb threatening injury. I carry an ace bandage in my pack. Put it on with some sort of make shift splint as you would far a sprain as soon as you are bitten. Make sure not to put it on so tight that you completley cutt off the flow of blood or you may lose your extremity from necrosis or lack of oxygen to the tissue of that area. This is only going to buy alittle more time. Get out of the woods and to a hospital. and for the love of pete quit reachin your hands into cravices and stepin over logs with out lookin behind them first LOL.

Dave
Apr 12, 2008

IMO There is really no "good" snake bite kit. They are only 50/50 at best and serve to keep the victim calmer. As they are virtualy useless should the venom get inside a vien. When you think of the speed that your heart pumps its blood. You will understand why I say this. But if you do carry one then I would recomend Sawyer Extractor as well. They are available at your favorite Wal-mart or outdoors store. In CA the two deadliest snakes out here (mojave Desert region) Are the Southwestern Diamondback and the Mojave Green rattler. With the Mojave green being the deadliest in the country. Reason is, Most rattler's venom will attack the respiratory and circulatory systems. The Mojave Green will attack those as well as the nervous system. In short. A bite from a Mojave Green can be fatal with in 15 minutes. If you are in the above mentioned region and get bit. I recomend going to Loma Linda University Hospital. That is where the nations leading venomologist resides at. Carry a small calibur gun with snake shot. As unlike the other rattlers. The Mojave Green is also an agressive snake and is known for chasing people or animals. Also do a search on the web for the above mentioned snakes and learn how to identify them. Although simular in apearance. The Mojave Green can be identified by the patern. Near its head you will see the familure diamond pattern. However as you move farther down towards the tail. You will see that the "diamond" pattern will start looking like a "band" pattern. If you look up the pictures on the net you will see what I am talking about. I dont make it a habit to kill snakes just because they are venomous. But if it is appropriate then I will. Enjoy your hikes and be safe. Also d/l some mp3's of rattler sounds so you will know them immediatly. Hollywood rattles are no comparison.

Steve Clothier
Apr 10, 2008

What is your opinion on the use of the Sawyer Extractor for removal of snakebite venom? I've neveer used one for a real snakebite, but I've seen some demonstrations (die injected in chicken breasts, for example) that look promising.

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