First Aid Guide
Any time a person has been bitten by a confirmed or suspected poisonous snake, the injury should be treated as a medical emergency. While awaiting emergency medical care, there are first aid measures that should be taken.
- Call emergency medical services.
- If possible, let the emergency operator know what kind of snake caused the bite. Note: Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake. Poisonous snakes can bite reflexively even after they are dead.
- Check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation. If the person is having breathing problems, allow him/her to get in the position that is most naturally comfortable to breathe.
- Wash the bite with soap and water.
- As swelling may occur from the bite, remove any constrictive clothing or jewelry near the injury site.
- To slow the spread of venom, place the site of the bite lower than the level of the person's heart. Keep it there and keep the person as still as possible.
- If signs of shock occur, such as decreased alertness or the person becomes very pale, lay him/her flat, raise the feet 8–12 inches, and cover the person with a light blanket or coat. Be sure to not elevate the bite area, so if the bite has occurred on the feet or legs, this is not recommended.
- Do not attempt to remove snake venom by sucking it or cutting it out.
- Do not apply ice or a cold compress to a snake bite.
- Do not apply a tourniquet.
- Do not raise the site of the bite above the person's heart.
Those who live in areas that are known to have poisonous snakes are at an increased risk for snakebites. If living in such an area, it is suggested to carry a snakebite kit and become familiar with how to use it.
As a general rule, most poisonous snakes have slit-like pupils, a triangular head, and clearly visible fangs. Common poisonous snakes are pit vipers (rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and copperheads) and coral snakes. They can be identified by the following features:
- Rattlesnake – There are rings at the end of the snakes' tail that produce a rattling sound when they shake their tail.
- Water moccasin – These snakes have a white, cotton-like lining in their mouths, which they display when alarmed.
- Copperhead – These snakes have diamond-shaped markings down their backs. They rapidly move their tails when they're angry but do not have rattles.
- Coral snakes – These snakes have red, yellow, and black rings along the entire length of their bodies. Coral snakes, unlike many other poisonous snakes, have round pupils and small fangs that may or may not be visible.
Following a snakebite, poisonous or nonpoisonous, watch for signs of infection. If suspected infection develops days later (ie, the affected area is very red or warm to the touch, painful, oozing pus, or blood-filled), seek medical attention.
The doctor may give a tetanus shot if the wound is dirty, deep, or if the previous shot was more than 5 years ago. If infection occurs at the wound site, antibiotics may be given.