• Mark N. Perlmutter, MS, MD

How to Manage a Snake Bite?

Updated: Jan 21

According to the North Carolina’s Poison Control Center, there were 71 calls about snake bites in April of 2021. But in April of 2016, there were only 19. That’s a significant increase of nearly 400 percent. At the current rate, the Center expects to field more than 500+ snake bite calls this year. Venomous snakes bite 7,000 – 8,000 people in the US every year.


On average, 5 Americans die from a snake bite every year.

Management of Snake Bites | Carolina Regional Orthopaedics

Snake Species in North Carolina

There are around 42 species of snakes in North Carolina. Fortunately, the majority are non-venomous and not aggressive toward people unless threatened.


There are 6 venomous snakes that are commonly found in North Carolina:

  1. The Copperhead

  2. The Cottonmouth (also called Water Moccasin)

  3. The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

  4. The Timber rattlesnake

  5. The Pigmy rattlesnake

  6. The Eastern coral snakes

The biggest culprit of snake bites are Copperheads.


How the venom works after being bitten?

There are actually 3 types of venom.

  1. Hemotoxic venom assaults the cardiovascular system.

  2. Cytotoxic venom targets specific sites or muscle groups.

  3. Neurotoxic venom goes after the brain and nervous system.

The way they affect us depends on species of snake, severity of envenomation, and size and health of the individual bitten, etc.


General Symptoms of Venomous Snake Bite

  • Severe pain

  • Swelling and redness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Labored breathing

  • Blurred vision

The effects are more pronounced in children possibly due to the reduced total dilution volume in children.


Dr. Sean Bush, Emergency Physician who is also a snake bite expert, stresses the importance of learning what SHOULD NOT be done than the First-Aid activities when a snake bites.


What NOT to do?

  • Tying a tourniquet above a snake bite is old fashioned advice and leads to more problems than the snake bite itself. For instance, it can concentrate the venom around that body part which can lead to that body having to be cut off, and as soon as the tourniquet is released, the venom can go directly to the heart.

  • Do not cut into or make an incision at the snake bite to get the venom out which could lead to heavy blood loss.

  • Do not use a cold compress on the bite.

  • Do not give the person any medications unless directed by a doctor.

  • Do not raise the area of the bite above the victim’s heart.

  • Do not attempt to suck the venom out by mouth, which is very dangerous.

  • Do not use a pump suction device as these were formerly recommended for pumping out snake venom, but it’s now believed that they are more likely to do more harm than good.

What to DO?

  • First thing first. CALL 911

  • The most important thing after a snake bite is to KEEP CALM. The faster your heart beats, the faster the venom spreads around the body causing more harm.

  • Make sure the person CAN’T move. Movement makes blood supply to the heart faster.

  • More importantly, do not move the body part that has been bitten.

  • Remove constricting/tight clothing or jewelry, because the area surrounding the bite will likely swell.

  • If the nearest ER (Emergency Room) does not have anti-venom, then call for an Air Ambulance so you can go to the ER facility that has the anti-venom as soon as possible.

How to Treat?

The mainstay of hospital treatment for venomous snakebite is Anti-venom.


Anti-venom (often spelled “antivenin”) is an antibody product that can disable a particular venom’s toxins. If injected quickly after a bite or sting, the antibodies in anti-venom neutralize the venom, potentially saving the victim’s life or limb.


Although Anti-venom can prevent venom-induced damage to a body, it is less able to reverse damage already wreaked by the venom. Thus, it is important that anti-venom treatment start as quickly as possible. Depending on the amount and toxicity of the venom, a victim may need many injections of anti-venom to sufficiently neutralize the venom.


What happens after the Treatment?

If the bite caused a larger-than-normal loss of blood, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Since anti-venom has potential side effects, you’ll also need to be monitored for a few weeks. Most adults take more than 3 weeks, but 25% of patients need anywhere from one to nine months. Pain and swelling are common long-lasting effects in the area of the body where the bite occurred.


Takeaway

Not everyone is aware of how to handle a snake bites, the First-Aid, and treatment. Acting quick is the most important thing when a snake bites. People still follow the old methods or fist-aid techniques when it comes to snake bites that can do more damage than good. So it is very important for us to know what should not be done rather than what needs to be done.


Carolina Regional Orthopaedics Carolina Regional Orthopaedics provides the most effective, modern, and innovative techniques in both Orthopedic Surgery and Pain Management using proven methodologies in both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of all conditions affecting the spine, upper extremities, and lower extremities. We specialize in hand and wrist surgery, joint replacements, sports medicine, trauma care, pediatric orthopedics, pain management, wound care, regenerative medicine, physical therapy, imaging services, and EMG testing.

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