By Jason West, MD, Trauma Medical Director
Denton Regional Medical Center
As the seasons change and the temperatures rise, people begin to enjoy the telltale signs that spring is finally here. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones who like the warm weather.
During this time of year, snakes exit their winter hibernation and become increasingly active during the spring and summer months. This often leads to increased interactions between snakes and humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 7,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes every year in the United States. Most individuals make a full recovery, but about 1 of every 1000 victims will die as a result of envenomation.
Texas Department of State Health Services reports 1–2 deaths annually from venomous snake bites. The most common species of venomous snakes in Texas are copperheads, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and coral snakes.
Most snake bites are completely treatable if the patient is taken to a capable facility immediately after the bite occurs. Denton Regional Medical Center, the only trauma center in Denton, keeps anti-venom in stock and has surgeons who are experienced in treating venomous snake bites.
Some tips to remember if you or someone you know is bitten by a venomous snake:
- Get the person away from the snake as quickly and safely as possible to prevent further injury.
- Call 9-1-1 or seek medical attention immediately.
- Keep the victim calm and still. Exciting them will only hasten the spread of the venom.
- Keep the bitten area level with the victim’s heart. Elevating the area will lead to the venom entering the system more rapidly. Lowering the bite site will cause worsening swelling to the affected area.
- Wash around the wound with warm water and soap if available.
- Remove any restrictive clothing, rings, jewelry, or watches. As the area begins to swell, these may become dangerously tight.
- Try to remember what the snake looked like. A diamond color pattern and triangular head shape are common among venomous snakes.
If you are bitten by a snake, do not …
- Place a tourniquet. Restricting blood flow to the area will cause more damage than the venom alone.
- Try to kill the snake. You will not be any help if you get bitten while trying to kill it.
- Attempt to suck the venom out with your mouth. Many bacteria live in our mouths and can cause an infection on top of a venomous bite.
- Make cuts in the skin around the bite marks. This will not help.
- Place ice or cold compresses on the skin at the bite site.
- Drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
- Take aspirin, ibuprofen or any NSAIDS for two weeks after a bite.
- Wait for symptoms to start before seeking medical attention. The sooner treatment is started, the more effective it is. Coral snake venom may not cause any symptoms for six hours or more. Seek medical care immediately.
In general, the best treatment is to avoid being bitten at all. Snake envenomation is a completely preventable injury. Some tips if you encounter a snake:
- Snakes are not naturally aggressive, especially toward larger animals or humans. Chances are they are looking to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. If a snake is provoked, it will be more likely to strike. If you see a snake, slowly and calmly move away.
- Wear long pants and boots when walking in rocky or heavily wooded areas, tall grass or leaf piles.
- Wear gloves when moving/stacking wood.
- Remember, snakes are more active at night.
Please keep these tips in mind and have a safe and happy spring!