More than 3,000 species of snake have been identified worldwide, but of these only 15% are considered to be dangerous. Venomous snakes can present a risk to people who visit camping, hiking, and picnic locations, as well as those who visit wilderness areas. In some areas of the world, dangerous snakes may be active in locations near or even in the home.
Every year in the United States, between 4,000 and 7,000 people report snake bites to national centers. Each state varies as to the frequency of snake bites; across the country, the average is four snake bites per 100,000 people. More than 75% of victims are male, and 96% of people who are bitten receive the bite on an extremity such as the hand or leg.
In the United States, snake bite deaths are extremely rare, due to the availability of antivenin. Most years there are fewer than four deaths from snake bites.
In many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, the majority of snake bites are not reported, even when fatal.
First Aid for Snake Bites
When someone receives a snake bite, it is best to assume that the snake was poisonous, and act accordingly. Most poisonous snake bites will cause the affected area to swell and redden, but this is not always the case.
One of the most important aspects of first aid is to respond quickly and calmly when someone is bitten by a snake. The person who has been bitten must stay as calm as possible, so those who are providing first aid should facilitate that by also remaining calm. Keeping the bitten person calm helps keep the heart rate low and reduce the flow of venom around the body. Ensuring the bitten area remains below heart level will also help with this.
A first aid suction pump device can be used to suck venom from the bite if one is available – note that sucking venom by mouth should not be attempted.
Monitor breathing and pulse.
Remove clothing and other items that may restrict the affected area. This might include rings, bracelets, or watches.
Call for emergency medical treatment.
Keep the bitten person warm if there are signs of shock. Lay them flat on the ground, and raise the feet slightly. Signs of shock may include cold, clammy skin, and paleness.
Snake Bite First Aid Don’ts
- Don’t allow the bitten person to walk around or stand. If the person must be moved, he or she should be carried.
- Don’t apply a compress or tourniquet
- Don’t try to suck out the venom by mouth, or cut the snake bite using a knife or razor
- Don’t give the bitten person food or drink
- Don’t give the bitten person medication unless it has been authorized by a doctor
Brian James Daley, MD, MBA, FACS for eMedicine.com: Snake Envenomation Overview
National Institute of Health MedlinePlus: Snake Bites
University of Maryland Medical Center: First Aid