Do you know what to do about a snakebite?

Southern Copperhead.

I spend a lot of time outside and in the warm months I am in “snake country” often.   

I learned early on that snakes can “show up” when you least expect them.  

So if you or a member of your family is bitten by a snake, do you really know what to do and what not to do?   

I am not a medical expert by any stretch but I made it a point long ago to learn the basics of what needs to be done in the event someone is bitten by a snake.

Here are some suggestions that might some day save your life. The first important step is to determine what species of snake did the biting. 

Some non-venomous snakes do have teeth that can break the skin at the bite site, so it is important first to identify the snake if you can do so quickly, especially if it is a child that has been bitten.   

That might save a lot of dangerous racing to the hospital and might keep Momma from having a heart attack if it turns out to be a non-venomous snake.   

Not that non-venomous snakebites should be ignored; they can become infected and need to be monitored in any event but they don’t compare to a venomous bite.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that throughout the world, more than 20,000 humans die each year because of venomous snakebites.   

Fortunately for us here in the United States, out of the approximately 8,000 who are bitten each year, less than five humans die because of venomous snakebites.

That’s because we have the necessary anti-venom medications readily available to counteract the effects of a venomous snakebite.

But before we discuss the anti-venom treatment available, let’s first cover some basics about snakes and snakebites.

In the event that you or a family member is bitten by what appears to be a poisonous snake, first try to determine what species of venomous snake bit the victim.   

This is important because not all snake venoms are the same. Some are much more deadly than others, even within subspecies, and this specific species identification will help determine ahead of time the extent to which you are going to require medical treatment.

For example, the venom of a coral snake cannot be treated with Crofab, the most common anti-venom medication routinely administered here in the United States for copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnake bites.

And within the rattlesnake subspecies, certain types of rattlesnakes will routinely require more anti-venom doses than other types of rattlesnakes. The venom of the mojave and eastern diamond rattlesnakes are particularly toxic.

The most frequent snakebites in the United States involve the copperhead. While all snake venoms contain a wide array of toxins, the copperhead venom is regarded as being primarily hemotoxic, meaning one that attacks red blood cells and, ultimately, the cardiovascular system. 

Western Pygmy Rattlesnake.

Generally, humans bitten by a copperhead have an excellent chance for survival, even without medical treatment, but medical intervention is always recommended in the first instance.

That is because with the copperhead bite, there is some tendency for a delayed onset of symptoms, sometimes as long as 72 hours after the person was bitten.

Fortunately, despite the frequency of copperhead bites, the copperhead in the past 10 years has been responsible for only four deaths and at least two of those deaths involved pre-existing health issues.

The cottonmouth water moccasin is another venomous snake whose venom is primarily hemotoxic. As far as I could tell from my research, there have been only two deaths relating to the cottonmouth in the past 40 years and at least one of those deaths was a situation in which the victim refused medical treatment and may have had some pre-existing medical conditions that contributed to his death.   
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Still, the safe approach even with a cottonmouth bite is to seek out medical treatment promptly.

The venom of a coral snake is primarily neurotoxic, meaning that it attacks the nervous system and can be fatal if untreated.   

As noted earlier, Crofab, the anti-venom medication primarily available here in the United States, cannot be used on coral snakebites.   

Fortunately, coral snakes are found only in Florida and in the southern portions of southern states and they are relatively rare, even in those states.

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