How to treat snake bites in the wild

In the following article, I will tell you exactly how to treat snake bites both in a safe environment (like your backyard), or in the wild.

Although poorly reported, conservative estimates put snake bites between 1.2 and 5.5 million incidents per year, resulting in around 20,000 deaths. More liberal estimates are as high as 94,000 per year.

If this happens to you or someone you know, there is no substitute for medical attention. The bottom line is that snake bites are a serious medical emergency, so you must contact emergency services immediately.

That said, you may find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, perhaps unable to call for aid. You will find information here to help you through such a scenario.

I feel it is also vital (and fascinating) to understand how snake bites work. It may help you to remain calm or even save your life. I’ve therefore peppered the following article with helpful background information too.

Contact Emergency Services Immediately

Dial 911

Part 1:

Snakes only bite in self-defense or to attack prey, and a human is not their prey.

Not all snake bites are venomous; in fact, most snake bites are not. Of 3,000 world snake species, only around 600 are venomous.

What’s more, venomous snakes voluntarily decide how much venom to inject into a bite, meaning that not all snake bites from venomous snakes result in poisoning. Such “dry bites” make up as much as 30-50% of poisonous snake bites.

Of course, amongst different species of snake, there are different types of venom.

Cytotoxins

Haemorrhagins

Myotoxins

Palm Viper Snake

There are two main families of venomous snakes:

The Cobra Family

Eastern Coral Snake Or American Cobra

Kraits, mambas, and sea snakes are among the Cobra family, like this Coral Snake, native to Northern America

The Viper Family

Palm Viper Snake

Vipers are by far the most common snake found in Northern America, although this Palm Viper can only be found in Central America and northern South America

A non-venomous snake might only leave teeth marks. A poisonous snake leaves two puncture wounds at the sides of the bite where the venomous teeth have punctured flesh to inject the venom.

Symptoms vary from snake to snake. The majority of bites occur on the arms and legs. If non-venomous, you will likely feel pain and scratches around the bite.

If venomous, you might feel a sharp throbbing/burning sensation in as little as 15 to 30 minutes. The symptoms will likely soon progress to swelling and bruising around the bite area and along the extremity. That said, some venomous bites may not initially hurt.

A whole range of further symptoms are also possible:

Important: take note of the snake’s appearance to identify it to emergency services later. If the bite is venomous, our main aim is to administer the correct anti-venom. 

Information on the size, color, and particular type of snake could be essential to determining the right anti-venom to administer. If you can safely take a photo with your smartphone, this would be excellent for later identification.

If you can, call emergency services immediately. 

First aid: protect the person

If the bite is venomous

The person must receive anti-venom treatment, so seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

In the meantime, cover the bite wound with a loose sterile bandage to protect from dirt or further injury.

Do not give the person any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Advil, Motrin, or other, as they increase the risk of over-bleeding. It may be okay to give the person Acetaminophen, although it’s best to consult their doctor.

If the bite is Non-Venomous

If you are entirely sure the bite is non-venomous, then you should treat it as a puncture wound. Nonetheless, seek out medical assistance. A medical professional can help to prevent infection and to limit the severity of the injury. 

Be particularly quick to seek medical attention if the person:

1. Stop the bleeding

First, stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the bite with sterile gauze or a clean cloth

2. Clean and protect the wound

Rinse under clean water for several minutes, washing the area with mild soap and water, and then rinse again. If available, apply an antibiotic cream

3. Treat the Pain

In the case of non-venomous bites, you may administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Always check with your consultant first, though.

Under no circumstances should you

A Snake Bite To The Leg Being Treated

The recurring theme here is that you need to seek medical assistance as soon as you can.

If the bite was venomous, you will need anti-venom. Before Albert Calmette invented anti-venom around 1985, around 100 people per year died of snake bites in the US. Today, those few (four or five people) who do die of snake bites each year are more likely to be young, old, or unable to get anti-venom treatment in time.

Equally, you may need antibiotics, a tetanus shot, or intravenous fluids. In the case of severe blood loss, you may also need a blood transfusion.

You will be required to stay in the hospital for a period of monitorization, in particular for allergic reactions. Allergic reactions are not uncommon, which is why a trained doctor should administer the anti-venom.

Most children recover quickly from bites in as little as one to two weeks. Many adults will recover in a similar period of one to three weeks. However, as much as 25% will improve slowly over one to nine months.

You certainly can’t! The only proper treatment for a snake bite is anti-venom, which must be administered correctly, in a controlled environment.

There are notable shortages of anti-venom worldwide, in no small part due to its resource-intensive process. It was discovered over 100 years ago by injecting horses with venom until they produced antibodies. The resulting serum was then injected as anti-venom.

In modern times a similar process is followed. First, a variety of snakes are ‘milked’. The milk is freeze-dried to concentrate the venom before injecting it into animals to create antibodies. The animal blood is then purified in a centrifuge to separate the anti-venom, before being frozen and injected.

Monospecific anti-venoms treat only one type of snake bite. Polyspecific anti-venoms treat bites from various snakes.

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