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Snake Bite First-Aid

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

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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