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Snake bites

Though it's rare these days for someone to die of snakebite, it does happen. No wonder that in the panic that follows a snakebite, victims may consider bizarre remedies. These questionable measures, still repeated by Uncle Al at the annual family picnic, include treatment with ice or electric shock, the use of tourniquets to cut off blood circulation, and cutting and sucking the wound.

None of these homespun treatments are recommended by snakebite experts, and some may cause even more harm than the snakebite itself. For example, cutting a victim can cause severe pain, massive bleeding, and infection; tourniquets can cut off blood supply to the extent that gangrene sets in.

First-aid for snake bites

The following simple first-aid steps are recommended by snakebite experts:

  • The victim should be kept calm, and exertion should be avoided. Physical activity increases absorption of the venom.
  • Immediately remove rings, bracelets, and other constricting jewelry or clothing.
  • Immobilize the bitten limb with a splint or sling (applied loosely so circulation is not cut off) and keep it lower than heart level.
  • Walk the victim at a steady but relatively slow pace back to a vehicle, or to a place where an ambulance or helicopter can be met. Keep the victim's heart rate as low as possible to slow the spread of the venom. If possible, use a horse, ATV, or litter to carry the victim.

Years ago, the antivenom used for snake-bite often caused hives or, in extreme cases, deadly anaphylactic shock. But times have changed. Clinical trials of the antivenom now used by medical professionals have demonstrated it to be as effective as the old brand but much safer. Only trained professionals should administer antivenom.