Every year there are roughly 8,000 people who are victims of snake bites, fortunately there are usually no more than eight deaths. This should not lead people including backpackers and hikers to believe it isn’t something to worry about. In all honesty, snakes do not want to waste their poison on humans, but rather on small animals to feed on. If a bite victim is not treated quickly, the venom can be damaging and even deathly. Keep in mind that a bite from even a so-called “harmless” snake can cause infection or allergic reaction.
Avoid Snake Bites
While you are outdoors, do not pester, bother, or provoke snakes or other animals as you are in their territory. You should not try to play with them or attempt to pick a snake up unless you are a trained professional. Keep in mind that if a snake does bite you, it is merely defensive in nature and will likely only leave enough venom behind to make you sick, but not kill you.
Know your surrounding and avoid hiking in areas where snakes are could be laying around. Stay out of tall grass and on the hiking trail as much as possible. If you must walk through areas where snakes could be, wear long pants, ankle-high boots, or even snake-proof gaiters. If you are entering an area where you will not be able to see your feet, kick ahead of you to give snakes warning and time to get out of your way. You don’t want to scare them! However, always keep your hands and feet out of areas where you are unable to see them.
Six Things You Shouldn’t Do
- Don’t let the victim engage in strenuous physical activity if bitten, carry the person to safety if needed. You can have them hike out slowly without their pack so they are not over-exerted.
- Don’t apply a tourniquet! It’s true that restricting superficial blood flow does keep the venom from spreading, but you want to avoid this. Concentrated venom will rapidly destroy cells. If you allow it to spread, it will dilute the toxin and reduce tissue damage.
- Don’t apply a cold pack to the bite area. Cold not only reduces healthy circulation to the infected area, but there is some data that shows, snake venom may actually increases vulnerability to frostbite.
- Don’t apply a suction device. Even though the practice of removing the venom by suction was once standard, it is no longer considered safe treatment. These devices generally to not remove a substantial amount of toxin and can damage sensitive tissue.
- Don’t let the snake bite victim eat or drink anything, including medication and alcohol, unless okayed by medical staff.
- Don’t cut across the bite marks and attempt to suck the venom out with your mouth. Snake fangs are curved and the pocket of venom will not be where expected and will probably have already spread. Plus, many snake bites are considered “dry,” where there was no toxin released into the victim. This may also increase the risk of infection in the area by having an open wound.
Watch for any signs of shock (sweating, clammy skin, or shallow breathing), since the fear of having been bitten is often more dangerous than the bite itself!