Snake bites

What do you reach for when in the wild when you need first aid?
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Snake bites

Post by YoungBlacksmith »

Having recently had a very intimate encounter with a copperhead, I thought I would get some knowledge out about what I've learned and experienced.


1. Get a picture or dead snake for confirmation, Pictures are absolutely fine, and preferred over dead snakes, which tend to be left for the nurses to dispose of.
2. Elevate the bite above your heart.
3. Stay calm, be assured you will not die.
4. Get to the ER as fast as you can for further treatment.

I was bit on my ankle by a copperhead Saturday, 8/29. I immediately knew what it was, it felt like a sharp electric twinge, very similar to a red wasp sting or two, with a bit more electric. I confirmed it was a copperhead, about 2.5' long, that I had stepped on in the dark. I did not kill it, but I did get a picture, then immediately went to our local hospital. My foot was on the dashboard to be above my heart. Pain didn't really set in for an hour or two, but when it did it was intense. My swelling was monitored by ER staff, marked every hour, and IV access was started. They took blood every 4 hours to monitor my clotting function and hemoglobin levels, and kept me under observation for the rest of the night, releasing me about noon on Sunday. Luckily, my body's response to the venom was minor and did not require anti-venom, which costs about $30,000 per vial, and a normal dose is 4 vials.

My ankle, foot, and up into my calf and knee swelled up, making walking very painful for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. I stayed in bed with my foot elevated above my heart. When still though, it was fairly manageable with Tylenol, even just hours after the bite. Swelling started within an hour, locally, spreading throughout the night, peaking Monday, then going down Tuesday, and I was walking again Wednesday. I am without pain today, with minor swelling, and two interesting fang marks.

Image Image


I was lucky, I got a low dose and had a fairly good reaction to the venom. The ER in Henderson sees about one a week in the summer, and the last few patients were not as lucky as me. One was a thumb, which swelled to the size of a large peach. The other was a forearm, his swelling went into his chest, and he required 16 vials of anti-venom to counteract his body's reactions to the venom.

Some bites are dry bites, with no venom, and you just have minor swelling and pain. Some bites are large doses. Some people react horribly to the venom. All this makes each case a unique situation, and requires medical professionals to help you through the first few days.

Approximately 8000 people are bitten by snakes every year, and about 51% of those snake bites are copperheads, on an extremity. Rattlesnakes are next, followed by Cotton Mouths in third. Coral snake bites are extremely rare, they don't really have big fangs, and have to chew on you for a while to get you, but they are the most deadly.

Now some don't's:

Don't drink alcohol. A copperhead's venom disturbs your hemoglobin and blood clotting ability, which is worsened by alcohol.
Don't apply a tourniquet. It causes more trauma and circulation issues than stopping the venom, and you need circulation to help with the impaired blood function.
Don't try to suck out the venom or slash the wounds. Again, this causes more trauma and swelling, and probably infection, than any good it could possibly do.

All this makes me think of a first aid/wilderness situation. Most of our camping is within reach of our cars, and eventually a hospital within a few hours. If kept calm and transported via stretcher, travois, or buddy system, you'd be fine. Or extracted by some other method. It would really get dicy if you couldn't get out within 4-6 hours, because there is no way we'd know how your body was reacting to the venom, how much you got, etc.

And again, this is all for Copperheads, I know rattlesnakes are totally different neurological and tissue damaging venom injectors.

I hope this helps someone, if anything it'll make you think twice when walking outside in the summer!

"G.W. Sears would not have tolerated MRE's, that is not what Woodcraft and Camping is all about." - Jeffro
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Re: Snake bites

Post by BigJesse »

Wow. Good to hear you're okay. Never actually known any that has been bit by a venomous snake before.
Great info and thanks for sharing.
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