This is a very common topic among hikers and climbers, what should I do to prevent and care for a snake bite? Most of those who hike actually have no idea about what to do when snakes do bite. In most cases hikers don’t often get to up close and personal with snake. It is a common belief that snakes are actually more afraid of humans, but the truth is that snakes do not really escape when they see humans, they can be both aggressive and defensive when threatened in their territory. Recently we were able to do a once in a lifetime rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, and believe me I was on the lookout for snakes everywhere I went!
Snakes indeed live in the wild and there are a few hundred species of them, with only a handful being considered poisonous. Most snakes prey on small mammals like mice and rats and they live in rural areas. And being cold-blooded, they prefer to stay in areas that are wet or moist.
So, the question what you need to do when bitten by a snake is a very relevant one. It is important to know the steps to be done when you or someone with you know has been bitten, and to know what you can do to prevent getting bitten.
One good way to avoid snake bite is to avoid trekking areas that are known to be snake territory, especially at night time. You need to keep in mind that snakes are really active when darkness falls. So it is also a good idea to choose going through open trails and to avoid bushes and loose rocks.
SYMPTOMS AND FIRST AID
Logic and common sense are the two main things that you should be equipped with in order to really understand how to deal with snake bites.
1. First, you must know how to diagnose snake bite. It is important that you know if it is indeed a snake bite or not. If you saw what happened then you can be sure about it and then go to the next step. In case you were not around when a person was bitten you should look for signs of the two fangs bite mark. Other signs include swelling and moderate to severe pain in the bite area. You should also look for skin discoloration, which will indicate venom and the twitching skin on the area. The victim could also suffer from different symptoms like vomiting, nausea, dizziness, slurred speech, sweating and abnormality of mental condition. If the signs and symptoms are present, then it is indeed a snake bite and you should proceed.
2. The next step is to get immediate help.
3. Then, the victim should be kept calm and very still. If you can immobilize the victim it would be better. Do not allow the victim to walk and it would be better to use a splint in the bite area. Also, make sure that the bitten part of the body is positioned lower than the victim’s chest. Place a constricting band or a bandage about two to four inches over the bite area, and also under it, if possible. Make sure that the bandage is not too tightly placed though. The main idea for the bandage is to prevent the venom from traveling to the lymphatic system and the bloodstream.
4. It would also be better if the snake can be identified. Take note of the snake’s size, color, pattern and other details.
5. Clean the wound or snake bite area with soap and water is the next step.
6. Take the victim to the nearest clinic or hospital. The victim should also be monitored continuously to watch out for any other signs and symptoms. If needed, you may have to perform CPR.
7. Do not panic! This is actually a golden rule. As much as possible make sure the victim and other people in the team do not panic. Lastly, keep monitoring the victim for changes in the wound area.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Never try to cup open the wound. Do not, for whatever reason suck the venom out. You must understand that the venom could seep through any lacerated or damaged tissues inside your mouth and you will be in real danger.
Applying any ointment is also a big mistake. The same thing for goes giving the patient any alcohol. Just use soap and water to clean the wound.
Often venom is not actually passed in a bite, additionally there is also a big chance that the snake is not a poisonous kind. It is also important to understand that even if the snake is not poisonous, hospital management is still necessary because the wound would still need to be treated and tetanus vaccine would need to be administered (depending on how long ago you have had the vaccine). Many are surprised to learn that you can get tetanus from a snake bite.
Antivenom is required if the snake has been proven to be poisonous and the venom had been injected. It is important to keep in mind though that not all hospitals may have readily available antivenom. Thus, knowing about first aid can really save the victim, especially if there is a need to buy time between the time of the bite and the time the victim reaches the hospital.
Although being bitten by a snake is somewhat rare, if you do go hiking it would still be great if you know how to take some precautionary measures in order to decrease the chances of a bite. And if the dreaded snake bit does occur, remember the first aid is important.
A dead snake can still cause damage and it is essential to handle a dead snake with care. It can still carry venom that can still cause serious damages because of the snake’s possible reflex action after dying.
Photo Credit: Mike Johnston