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Snake Bite Dos and Don’ts

  • Category: Emergency
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Snake Bite Dos and Don’ts

Warmer weather means you may be spending more time outdoors hiking, fishing, camping or just working outside. While Louisiana has a lot of outdoor activities to offer, we are also home to nearly fifty species of snakes, seven of them venomous.

Fortunately, snake bites are relatively rare. Only one in 37,000 people are bitten by snakes each year, and one in 50 million die from the bite. Snakes aren’t typically aggressive and generally won’t bother you unless they feel threatened. In fact, most snake bites happen because people don’t realize a snake is there before placing a hand or stepping somewhere. Sometimes people may not even realize they’ve been bitten, especially if it happens in the water. But, if you think you’ve been bitten by a snake, what should you do?

First, what not to do:

  • Don’t assume the snake was harmless or wait to see if symptoms will get worse. Always treat a snake bite like it’s venomous and get help right away. Even a bite from a non-venomous snake can be serious, causing an allergic reaction or infection.
  • Don’t try to kill the snake. Many secondary bites happen when someone tries to kill the snake. If you can get a picture of the snake safely, that may help your care team. But, contrary to popular belief, it’s not required that you identify the snake to get treatment. Emergency rooms know how to use your physical symptoms and bite marks to determine if anti-venom is required.
  • Don’t suck out the venom, and don’t use a snakebite kit.
  • Don’t apply a tourniquet. Years ago, some scouts were taught to use a tourniquet for snake bites, but now we know that they can create complications and increase the risk of blood clots and amputation.
  • Don’t take aspirin or ibuprofen. Some snake venoms already thin the blood, and pain relievers can increase that effect.

What to do:

  • Try to stay calm. Even if you’re bitten by Louisiana’s most dangerous snake, the Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake, you have time to get to an emergency room before serious complications occur.
  • Call 9-1-1 or head to the nearest emergency room, as soon as possible. They’re stocked with anti-venom and will start treatment immediately.
  • Remove rings and watches before you start to swell.
  • If you have a pen or marker, circle the site of the bite and write the time that it occurred so your care team can monitor how fast you’re swelling.
  • If you have time and access to clean water, clean the bite and cover it with a clean dressing while you are being transported to the hospital.
  • Keep your bite below your heart if you can.

As with everything, it’s easier to prevent a snakebite than to treat one. Always take the following precautions when outdoors:

  • When hiking, stick to trails. Avoid tall grass and heavy underbrush where snakes like to hide.
  • Wear appropriate shoes when you’re outside – never go barefoot or wear sandals or flip-flops when walking through the wilderness.
  • Watch your step, and don’t put your foot in a hole or crevice.
  • Never put your hands in spots where you can’t see.
  • Examine logs or rocks before sitting down.
  • If you see a fallen tree or a large rock in your path, make sure you can see the other side before you step.
  • Don’t grab sticks in the water. Sometimes they aren’t sticks!