March 21, 2013

Upcoming Warm Weather Brings Concern For Snake Bites

Warmer weather coaxes snakes out of hiding, and it´s important to know what to do after a snake bite, according to a medical toxicologist at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Many people don´t realize how much of an issue snake bites are in this area of the country," said Dr. Spencer Greene, director of medical toxicology and assistant professor of medicine - emergency medicine at BCM. "In fact, our regional poison center reported 235 snake bites - including 148 from known venomous snakes - in the Houston area in 2012, and I am sure many more are going unreported".

According to Greene, the first step is avoidance.

"Never reach into a hole or a bush blindly, a snake may be resting there," he said. "It is also important to maintain an appropriate distance from a snake. Most pit vipers, which include rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins, can strike at a target up to two-thirds of their body length when provoked."

If bitten

If you are bitten by a snake, Greene suggests the following important steps:

-Stay calm.
-Call 911 immediately to be evaluated.
-Take off anything that is constricting the affected area, such as a ring or watch.
-Position the affected area at or above heart level. This means that if you are bitten on the hand, bring it to heart level, and if you´re bitten on the leg or foot, elevate it if possible. This minimizes the amount of local tissue damage and swelling, which is the most common finding in pit viper bites.
-Go to the emergency room - the sooner the better.

Treating snake bites

Greene also dispels several myths about treating snake bites and suggests heeding the following advice:

-Do not apply a tourniquet or a constriction band.
-Do not apply ice; it can cause local tissue damage.
-Do not apply heat.
-Don´t cut the affected area and attempt to suck the venom out - this increases the amount of local tissue damage.
-Don´t use a commercially-available extraction device. These have also shown to be ineffective in removing venom and actually increase the amount of tissue damage.
-Don´t use electrical therapy.
-Don´t apply any type of lotions or ointments.


The management of snake bites has changed over the years and the newer type of anti-venom has proven to be very effective in reducing pain, bleeding complications, swelling and tissue damage, Greene says.

Although anti-venom has been shown to have the maximum effectiveness within the first 12 hours of the bite, it can still be effective a few days after the bite.

At the hospital, physicians will determine if anti-venom and hospital admission is necessary.

"Ideally, patients should be evaluated by a medical toxicologist with experience in managing snake bites," Greene says.

If a patient requires anti-venom, he or she usually spends one or two days in the hospital. After hospital discharge, patients will need to follow up twice a week for two weeks to watch for any signs of recurrent toxicity.


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