Things You Should Never, Ever Do If Bitten By A Venomous Snake

Karen C. asks: True or false, you should suck the venom out of a snakebite after someone gets bitten?

There are plenty of productive things you can do to help a snakebite victim; trying to suck out the venom is actually not one of them. Truly, it has a negative effect, possibly damaging the tissue around the bite and thus helping to spread the venom, trying to suck the venom out of a snakebite victim is an act of futility that simply prevents proper treatment.

Once in the body, snake venom immediately spreads throughout the victim’s lymphatic system, and it is just not possible for a human to suck hard or fast enough to extract enough of it to have any real positive effect.

Furthermore, experts say applying a tourniquet is just as pointless (it won’t stop the spreading venom), can add to the victim’s pain, and if left on excessively long, the lack of fresh blood can damage (and even kill) the limb, among other serious health issues this can introduce.

Ice is also a popular home treatment, but recent studies have shown that it can make the injury far worse. Another common misunderstanding is that snakebites are very fatal. In fact, even during frontier times, only 1/4 of bites from pit vipers (think cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes) ended in death.

One reason is that some of these snakebites are “dry,” implying no venom is injected. Now, the worldwide rate of deaths from a snakebite is around 0.5-1% of people bitten, mostly due to the development and distribution of effective anti-venom. For further reference, approximately 8,000 people in the U.S. are bitten by venomous snakes per year, but only about 0.2% die from it (much more people die from allergic reactions to bee, hornet or wasp stings).

This also indicates you are about 9x more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from being bitten by a snake in the United States. Even in Australia where seemingly everything in nature seems able to kill humans and where 7 out of the world’s 10 deadliest snakes live, there is only about 1 death by a snake bite each year on average.

So what should you do when you encounter a snakebite? Various things, depending on your circumstances. Defend the person by slowly moving them away from the snake (and making sure not to get bit yourself). At the same time, try to note the snake’s appearance (so emergency responders will know better how to treat the bite).

Call emergency responders or get to a hospital. The former is favored so that the victim can simply lay there and relax, to slow their heart rate and perform other helpful actions which we’ll get to soon. If you’re transporting, or are, the victim and the bite is on a limb, depending on condition, a splint to decrease muscle contractions can also be helpful.

If you are stuck in the wilderness and the victim will have to walk out, first have them sit silently for a while until fully relaxed. This helps to keep the venom confined in one place. Then get walking, but at a calm, slow pace. In the interim between getting the needed medical aid, try to keep the victim as tranquil as possible to limit the spread of the venom.

This includes evading stimulants and other products that either thin the blood or accelerate the heart, such as coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, and aspirin. If at all possible, it is also helpful to have the victim lay down, keeping the affected area (usually a limb) lower than the heart.

Cover the victim with a cloth and loosen tight clothing. In particular, remove anything squeezing te effective area, like a shoe, belt or jewelry (especially rings and bracelets). The bitten extremity will swell and such jewelry may then become a source of extreme pain if not removed.

The bite area should also be washed with soap and warm water or otherwise sterilized, to help reduce the chance of infection. It should also be noted that while bites from copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths are extremely painful from the start that the victim will ask for assistance.

But with coral snakes, some victims have made the mistake of thinking the bite caused little harm. The National Library of Medicine states that it is common for symptoms from the venomous bite of a coral snake to take numerous hours to appear. While you will normally be fine, so long as you receive proper medical care after being bitten, there is the notable exception of the Black Mamba.

Residing in certain parts of Africa, you will want to avoid them at all costs. The Black Mamba’s kill rate after a strike is 100% unless extremely large amounts of anti-venom (typically 10-12 vials) are administered very shortly after being bitten. You don’t have much time with this one.

Given how suddenly its venom can kill (as soon as 10 minutes, though sometimes it takes a few hours, depending on how much is injected; the average time until death after a bite is between 30-60 minutes), around 95% of people still die from Black Mamba bites usually due to being unable to get the anti-venom administered in time.

For reference, one single strike from a Black Mamba will deliver an estimated 100-400 mg of venom and only 10-15 mg is required to kill a human. They also usually won’t just strike once, but will constantly strike whatever is threatening them as much as they safely can before it stops moving.

If it’s a large, dangerous animal they’re striking, they may only strike a couple of times in quick succession, then may or may not follow the animal until it dies. If they do follow, they customarily will continue to strike only when they see safe opportunities. As you might expect from this, Black Mamba’s are near the top of the food chain, outside of humans.

What’s especially frightening about this snake, apart from being extra deadly and 8-14 feet long, is that the Black Mamba can also move as fast as 14 mph, with an average top speed in the range of 10-12 mph. This easily makes them the fastest snake in the world. They can also sustain speeds of around 6-7 mph for long periods.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, the Black Mamba is widely recognized to be the most aggressive snake in the world. However, it should be noted that even having the reputation of being remarkably aggressive, it usually only attacks humans when it feels cornered or when a female is protecting her eggs.

When it does feel like fighting, it’s amazingly fearsome. Because of its size, ground speed, and quickness; how swiftly it can strike; how daring it can appear to be; and how deadly its venom is, it generally takes a group of people working together to kill one, and even then it’s a dangerous adventure.

So you will never want to encounter one of these alone, whether on land or in the water. In both cases, it’s best to have someone with you that you can run faster than!

Bonus Facts:

An easy way to determine if you were bitten by a venomous snake or not is that usually venomous snakes will leave two moderately deep puncture wounds after they’ve struck. Nonvenomous snakes will usually leave small, very shallow punctures in a horseshoe shape. Another captivating kind of snake is the Chrysopelea, also known as the “flying snake”.

This snake actually can fly, after a fashion. It has the capability to use scales on its belly to climb straight up trees. Once it’s high enough, it will hang from a tree branch. It then selects a target and bends itself into a J. Lastly, it flings itself away from the tree towards its target and sucks in its abdomen, flares out its ribs, and creates a sort of flying torpedo, with lateral undulation (like the way snakes move through water).

Coupled with the way they shape their body, this lateral undulation actually creates lift, enabling them to glide. They are capable of making flights as long as 100 meters doing this.
Rattlesnakes are able to make a rattling noise because their tails are composed of 6-10 layers of scales. When these layers of scales are shaken, they rattle.