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Show full transcript for Snake Bites video

In this lesson, you'll learn how to treat a patient who has been bitten by a poisonous snake.

When dealing with snake bite victims, there are three initial points to take note of:

  • If you have the snake, bring it to the hospital with you so the venom can be identified, and there aren't any guesses when it comes to the antivenom. Just don't get bit yourself trying to kill or capture a dangerous snake.
  • If you have a snake bite kit and you know how to use it, that's a great advantage.
  • If you don't have a snake bite kit, a pressure bandage and remembering a few key points will serve you well.

How to Treat a Patient who has been Bitten by a Snake

As always, the first thing you want to do is make sure the scene is safe and that your gloves are on. Make sure you have your rescue mask with a one-way valve handy and introduce yourself to the victim.

"Hi, my name's _____. I'm a paramedic. I'm going to help you."

  • Call 911 and activate EMS. Give them as much information as possible so that the patient gets routed to a hospital that has the correct antivenom.
  • Get the patient into a comfortable position – seated or laying down – where they can be as calm as possible. They could become dizzy, and you don't want them falling and injuring themselves.
  • Wrap the pressure bandage over the snake bite area and as high up and down the limb as possible and tight enough to compress the tissue. But not so tight that it acts like a tourniquet. A tight wrap will slow the circulation of venom that's been injected into the patient.
  • Reassure the patient – tell him or her that they're in good hands, that EMS is on the way, and that they'll be taken good care of. You don't want them to get excited, nervous, or agitated, as the patient's heart rate will increase and circulate the venom faster.

Warning: What you don't want to do – You don't want to use a cold pack; these have been widely ruled out now. And you certainly don't want to suck out the venom, unless you have a special fondness for urban myths.

  • Keep the patient's snake-bitten limb or area lower than the heart, if possible. Doing so will help contain the venom to the area closer to the bite. The less reason you give the venom to circulate, the better off the patient will be.
  • Get the patient into the ambulance with as little movement as possible. Is there a golf cart around? How about a stretcher? How close can the ambulance get? You don't want them walking, or moving, any more than is absolutely necessary.
  • Get the patient to the correct hospital with the correct antivenom and the life-saving treatment they may need.

A Word About Venomous Snakes

Snakebites kill few people in the United States. Of the estimated 7000 to 8000 people reportedly bitten each year, fewer than five die. And most of those deaths occur because the person has an allergic reaction, is in poor health, or because too much time passes before the person receives medical care.

When it comes to the biggest threat, rattlesnakes account for most snakebites and nearly all of the deaths from snakebites.

Venomous snakebite signs and symptoms include:

  • One or two distinct puncture wounds, which may or may not bleed. The exception is the coral snake, whose teeth leave a semicircular mark
  • Severe pain and burning at the wound site immediately after or within four hours of the bite
  • Swelling and discoloration at the site of the bite immediately after or within four hours of the incident

If the bite is from a venomous snake such as a rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth, or coral snake, call 911 and activate EMS for more advanced medical personnel. To give care until help arrives, simply follow the steps outlined above. And if you're interested in more of what not to do, we have a list for that, too:

  • Do not apply ice
  • Do not cut the wound
  • Do not apply suction
  • Do not apply a tourniquet
  • Do not use electric shock, like from a car battery