Tips for surviving a venomous snake bite

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 7:17 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia has two kinds of venomous snakes, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead, and copperhead bites are the most common, according to the West Virginia Poison Center.

Neither snake is venomous enough to kill you unless you have a severe anaphylactic reaction, Poison Center Director Dr. Elizabeth Scharman said. However, you should call the Poison Center immediately after getting bitten. The call center is open 24/7 and will be able to determine the treatment you need, as well as alert other health officials to be prepared when you get to the hospital.

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“Keep them calm, make sure you remove them from dangers, and make sure they are walking away from where the snake was,” Dr. Scharman said about caring for a snake bite victim. “Immobilizing the area and then calling for assistance, or taking them to the emergency department if you have the ability to drive.”

Dr. Scharman said you should not go to an urgent care center, since they do not stock antivenom. All emergency rooms should have antivenom to help following a snake bite. In addition to calling for help and immobilizing the bitten area, you should remove any restricting items, such as rings or bracelets, and wash the area with soap and water.

You should not apply ice to a snake bite, attempt to cut and suck out the bitten area or apply a tourniquet, Dr. Sharman said. Do not approach the snake to catch or kill it as a dead snake can still bite.

“The risk of a tourniquet is that you are cutting off oxygen to the area,” Dr. Scharman said. “That is always a risk for injury. Tissues that don’t get oxygen start to die off. So, unless it’s a life-threatening emergency like an artery has been cut and the person is going to bleed to death, you really don’t want to apply a tourniquet.”

Dr. Scharman said a snake does not use venom in about a third of its bites, so you might just have to watch and see if the bitten area begins to swell up. “That is another reason you don’t want to jump in and apply a tourniquet, or cut and suck, because there is a one-in-three chance they didn’t get any venom injected at all.”

To prevent bites, people in areas where snakes are commonly found should avoid walking at night, stay away from high grass and underbrush and try to not reach or step on areas snakes could be hiding, like rock ledges or under logs.

You can contact the West Virginia Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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