Boo hiss to venom: How to prevent and treat snake bites


Georgia is full of great trails and paths to hike and run. However, those same trails and paths are homes to critters,both docile and dangerous. Yes, this includes snakes. With so many places for them to hide, it is unlikely you will be bitten by one, but every runner and hiker should be aware of the dangers and know what to do in the event being on the wrong end of a bite. 

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Think you've been bitten by a snake?

Don't worry about catching it, applying a tourniquet, or heroically cutting the wound to extract the venom, says Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center based in Atlanta.

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Instead, reach for the most important first-line antidote to snake bites: your car keys. "It's most important to get a snake bite victim to the hospital," says Lopez. Medical professionals will address three areas of potential snake bite harm: local tissue injury and pain; heart issues; and bleeding from the wound and bleeding complications.

Another very important tip: call 911 or poison control right away. Keep the national Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222) programmed into your phone and written out somewhere you can easily see it at your house or in your car. The folks that answer there will have immediate advice and can also steer you to the nearest poison control center in the area if you get bitten.

More than 400 people were bitten by a snake in the state and reported it or sought assistance from the Georgia Poison Control Center each of the years between 2010-2015, says Lopez, in a season that typically begins in later March. While just two snake bite deaths were reported in the state since 2010, one in 2013 and one in 2015, around a fourth of those who sought assistance through the GPCC needed the antidote.

"Snake bites for the most part occur in North Georgia and Middle Georgia," he says. "Georgia ranks right up there with Florida in the number of snake bite calls per year."

Just six venomous snakes live in the state, according to the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources; Copperhead, Pigmy rattlesnake, ,Canebrake or Timber rattlesnake, Cottonmouth, Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake and Eastern coral snake.

Other important steps to take if you or your child have been bitten by a snake, according to the Center for Disease Control's national emergency website and the GPCC:

* If you don't have immediate transportation to the hospital, while waiting for 911 response keep the patient calm and immobile, preferably lying down

* Until you reach medical help, keep the affected limb at an even level with the rest of the body.

* Do not give the patient food, drink, or medication -including pain medications, aspirin, alcohol and so forth. Much of the advice for snake bite treatments may go against what you've always heard or assumed, especially if you've watched a lot of Westerns or are thinking of standard treatments for other medical emergencies.

A few surprising snakebite don'ts:

* Do not use a tourniquet.

* Do not Cut the wound.

* Do not try to suck out the venom.

* Do not pack the wound in ice.

If you are absolutely certain the bite came from a non-venomous snake, wash it with warm soapy water anyhow and seek immediate medical care anyhow; you may need a tetanus shot and you're still very susceptible to infection.

As for identifying the snake that bit you, the recommended strategy there is counter intuitive, too. First and foremost, do not try to catch the snake, says Lopez. "We do not want you to bring it to the poison control center, dead or alive!"

A second interaction with the snake may slow down your ability to get medical attention and it definitely puts you (or your companions) at risk for a second bite. And never make assumptions about which snake bit you if you didn't see it--or even if you think you had a clear look, says Lopez. "We get people that say, 'Yes, I was bitten, but we only have rat snakes and garters around here. If you make assumptions, you may end up as a statistic."

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