Snake Bite (cont.)
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Steven Doerr, MD
Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
In this Article
- What is a venomous (poisonous) snake bite?
- What is a nonvenomous (nonpoisonous) snake bite?
- What are the symptoms of a venomous snake bite?
- How is a venomous snake bite diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for a venomous snake bite?
- What are the complications of a venomous snake bite?
- Can a snake bite be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for a venomous snake bite?
- Snake bites and snake pictures
- Find a local Doctor in your town
How is a venomous snake bite diagnosed?
Any snake bite needs emergency evaluation. Identification of fang or bite marks is done, even if the snake is non-venomous, to determine local trauma or tissue damage at the site of the bite. Identification of the snake type by description or picture, along with the circumstances of the bite and the surrounding environment usually provides the health care professional a working diagnosis. For example, a snake bite occurring in dry west Texas is likely a rattlesnake bite, while a snake bite in a swampy area of the US is likely a water moccasin. A zookeeper or private snake owner/collector who is bitten will likely know the exact type of snake that caused the bite or toxic spray (spitting cobras).
What is the treatment for a venomous snake bite?
There are two phases in the treatment of snake bites.
- The emergency treatment on site and during transport to an appropriate health care facility.
- Tthe health care facility stabilizes the patient, administers antivenin if deemed necessary, and provides supportive treatment.
Phase one of snake bite treatment
In the past there have been many home remedies and treatments, along with snake bite kits and other treatment methods, many of which have been shown to make the effects of the snake bite worse. Consequently, the CDC has issued guidelines, used after the threat of additional bites to the patient or others is eliminated, about what to DO and what NOT TO DO if a snakebite occurs. The following are the recommendations made by the CDC:
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services)
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with identification and treatment of the snake bite.
- Keep still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom.
- Inform your supervisor (if the bite occurs at work).
first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
- Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.
- Wash the bite with soap and water.
- Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
Do NOT do any of the following:
- Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.
- Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, rather seek immediate medical attention.
- Do not apply a tourniquet.
- Do not slash the wound with a knife.
- Do not suck out the venom.
- Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
- Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages.
Not included in the CDC recommendation is the bite of the Australian elapid snake, also termed a sea snake, which is emergently treated with a pressure bandage at the bite site with splinting and extremity immobilization. Others suggest no use of electric shocks for any snake bite.
Phase two of snake bite treatment
The second phase of treatment consists of stabilization and supportive care, and when medically indicated, administration of antitoxin (antivenin) specific for the snake species and a tetanus booster vaccine. A good practice is to call your local poison control center or the national Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222), and also to consult a toxicologist and a surgeon to help care for the patient. Certain patients may require surgical treatment and admission to the hospital.
The treatment of non-venomous snake bites includes local wound care at the site of the bite, removing snake teeth if left in the bite site, attending to any trauma at the bite site, and a tetanus booster if needed. Some wounds may become infected and require additional treatment with antibiotics.
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