What to do if you are bitten by a snake

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, July 17, 2018

When you run across a snake, their normal reaction is to get away. But if they feel threatened enough all snakes will bite defensibly. If you are bitten, here are some recommended first aide treatments.

Try to determine if it’s venomous or not. If you’re confident it’s not you can treat the bite like you would a puncture wound. Check with your doctor to see if you might need a tetanus shot booster.

If you know it’s a venomous snake or you’re just not sure, assume it is. Our two local poisonous snakes are the copperhead and the timber rattler. Both are pit vipers that deliver a toxin through hypodermic fangs.

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If the bite is on the arm or leg, keep the bitten area below heart level. Keep calm and don’t exert yourself, as this will only spread the venom more quickly. Snakebites are usually not fatal, so don’t panic. Call 911 or get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Give them a description of the snake if you can. The head of a venomous snake is bigger than its body with the jaws protruding out. With non-venomous the head and body are the same diameter. Not as easy to see is the eyes. Venomous snakes have vertical eye slits like a cat. Non-venomous have round eye pupils.

The treatment of cutting the bitten area and sucking blood from the wound is not recommended, as this may cause a bad infection or even sever a vein or artery. Use of a tourniquet to slow the flow of venom is also not recommended.

When you see a snake out in the woods away from your home, try not to let fear control your actions to the point where you instantly kill it. Keep in mind snakes provide beneficial pest control…they eat a lot of rodents. A mutual respect for each other will keep both you and the snake alive and well.

If you’re outdoors a lot it’s a good idea to learn how to identify copperheads and timber rattlers, and there are plenty of references online. You are most likely to get bitten if you step on one, so watch where you put your foot down, especially in heavy brush. And please don’t let the fear of snakes prevent you from enjoying the outdoors. Just be careful out there.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.