Whether you’re a seadog or a landlubber, there is one particular creature no one wants to see while having fun: a snake.
There are only about 6 snake-bite deaths in the United States each year, but 1 person in 37,500 may be bitten by a venomous snake. You can read more about venomous snake statistics HERE
Although you may not die from a snake bite, the effects of a snake’s venom can include multiple symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, convulsions, paralysis, and others. It depends on the snake, the location of the bite, and whether or not the snake delivered a dry bite, which any venomous snake is capable of doing.
But if you’ve been bitten by a snake, DO NOT ask a friend to suck it out. This is a common myth, and though it won’t hurt your friend, it’s going to cause the same as using a snake venom suction kit: Necrosis.
Venom works by getting into your bloodstream. When suction is applied to a snakebite, all of the venom is collected in one location. With too much venom in one place, the body tissue surrounding the area can’t get enough blood, effectively killing the flesh, which will then have to be surgically removed.
There are other common remedies that won’t do much good: tourniquets, ice, and even electricity being some of them. None of these will have any effect on snake venom. Even snake bite kits, commonly sold to folks who wish to look out for themselves, do more harm than good. The simple answer is the best answer: No first aid will do less damage than bad first aid. Read more about snakebite myths HERE
The truth is that snake venom travels quickly and by the time you have noticed a snake bite, it may already be coursing through your body. Most snake bites are easily confused with simple scratches, and bites can be as mild as a bee sting or feel like a searing, burning pain. This means that you should always inspect any area of your body that receives a stinging pain while in the woods or water. If you see two small holes, or two scratches at the location, it may have been a snake.
So what should you do if you’re bitten by a snake?
First, get away – but slowly! Running, screaming, or otherwise stressing your body out raises your heart rate, pumping the venom through faster. If you can see the snake, you need to calmly walk about 20-30 feet away from it. If you can’t see the snake, walk calmly towards your camp. Don’t try to find the snake and capture it, as this can lead to other people getting bitten, but if you can see the snake make an attempt to let others in the immediate area know. If the snake is in your line of vision, make notes to yourself on the colors of the snake and any other features that might help emergency workers diagnose the bite.
“This snake is a copperhead. If you were bitten by a copperhead and were able to see it but not recognize it, you might describe it as having no banding colors, but being green with dark colored streaks from head to tail. This could help emergency personnel know what anti-venom to give you.”
While walking, call emergency services first and explain the situation. If you are staying in an RV, your next call needs to be to the head office of the park you’re staying in or to the person whose land you’re on. Tell them the situation and explain that you already have emergency services on the way. Your next call should be to your family or whoever it is that is with you, if anyone, once again explaining the situation. Keep calm the entire time, and pace your speaking and walking to keep your heart rate down.
If you are on a shore far from the launch area or otherwise not in your boat, still make the phone calls but wait until you return and are seated in your boat. If you’re in the water and are bitten, swim back to your boat and climb aboard.
You should also remove any tight clothing, jewelry, or anything that might restrict the afflicted area should it begin to swell.
Once you’ve gotten far enough away from the snake, sit down on the ground and stay there for about half an hour. In many cases of snakebites, your body will be reckoning with the influx of venom. As the body is prone to doing when faced with a sudden invader, passing out on the ground may be part of your snake bite journey. Many victims make the mistake of running to their vehicle and attempting to drive to the hospital – only to wake up after a car accident. It is important that before this happens, you make contact with at least one of the above phone calls so that you have help on the way.
If it’s been half an hour and you have yet to pass out, you can slowly make your way back to your camp site or boat launch. It’s important that you stick to as direct a route as possible, as this is the route that emergency personnel will most likely use. Once arriving at your destination, lie down or position yourself so that the area that was bitten is raised up, much as is done with other injuries. If you begin to experience symptoms that may be associated with the snakebite – headaches, double vision, nausea, etc. – try to let someone else know so that if you are unconscious when emergency services arrive, the information can be given to them.
When emergency personnel arrives, be sure to pass on as much information as possible. Show them where you were bitten and report to them any symptoms that you are currently having, as this can help them form a timeline of the bite. If you know what the snake looked like, be sure to tell them that as well.
But what if someone you’re with has been bitten by a snake?
Help them to a safe place, and if they do pass out, stay with them until they awake. At that point it is safe to slowly make your way back to your camp or launch site. Be sure that you, too, are staying calm, and try to keep an eye on the bite for them. Stay with the person until emergency personnel arrive to take the situation over.
Snake bites are very scary, but knowing what to do when it happens is the safest thing you could possibly know! Share with your friends and family to make sure that they know what to do in case they or someone they are camping or boating with has been bitten by a snake.
Have fun, and stay safe!