So back in June I wrote a blog about rattlesnakes! As per my forte, the article was more about education and entertainment. But what would you do, if you really encountered one? And not just a rattlesnake, but any of the venomous snakes we have in North America? Well lucky for us, Wes is covering that specific subject for this month’s Simple Step blog:
“North America has two kinds of venomous snakes: The pit vipers (rattlesnakes, water moccasins) and Elapids (coral snakes). One or more of these snakes can be found almost everywhere in the continental U.S
Many snakes are active at night, especially in warm weather. In the wilderness, it’s important to look where you’re putting your hands and feet. Be especially careful around areas where snakes might like to hide, such as hollow logs, under rocks, or in old shelters. Wearing heavy gloves would be a reasonable precaution. Be sure to wear good solid high-top boots and long pants when hiking in the wilderness. Walking heavy creates ground vibrations and noise, which will often cause snakes move along.
Not every bite from a venomous snake transfers its poison to the victim; 25-30% of these bites will show no ill effects. Snake bites that cause a burning pain immediately are likely to have venom in them. Swelling at the site may begin as soon as five minutes afterwards, and may travel up the affected area. Pit viper bites tend to cause bruising and blisters at the site of the wound. Numbness may be noted in the area bitten, or perhaps on the lips or face. Some victims describe a metallic or other strange taste in their mouths.
With pit vipers, bruising is not uncommon and a serious bite might start to cause spontaneous bleeding from the nose or gums. Coral snake bites, however, will cause mental and nerve issues such as twitching, confusion and slurred speech. Later, nerve damage may cause difficulty with swallowing and breathing, followed by total paralysis.
Coral snakes appear very similar to their look-alike, the non-venomous king snake. They both have red, yellow and black bands and are commonly confused with each other. The old saying goes: ”red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, venom it lacks”. This adage only applies to coral snakes in North America, however.
Coral snakes are not as aggressive as pit vipers and will prefer fleeing to attacking. Once they bite you, however, they tend to hold on; Pit vipers prefer to bite and let go quickly. Unlike coral snakes, pit vipers may not relinquish their territory to you, so prepare to possibly be bitten again.
A snake doesn’t always slither away after it bites you and it’s likely has more venom that it can inject. If bitten move out of its striking range, which can be twice its body length or mitigate the hazard in any way you can. Killing the snake, however, may not render it harmless: it can reflexively bite for a period of time, even if its head has been severed from its body. Removing the head and bury it 10-12” deep.
The treatment for a venomous snake bite is “Anti-venom”, an animal or human serum with antibodies capable of neutralizing a specific biological toxin. This product will probably be unavailable in a long-term survival situation.
The following wilderness treatment strategy will be useful:
• Keep the victim calm. Stress increases blood flow, thereby endangering the patient by speeding the venom into the system.
• Stop all movement of the injured extremity. Movement will move the venom into the circulation faster, so do your best to keep the limb still.
• Clean the wound thoroughly to remove any venom that isn’t deep in the wound
• Remove rings and bracelets from an affected extremity as swelling may occur.
• Position the extremity below the level of the heart; this also slows the transport of venom.
• Wrap with compression bandages snug but do not restrict blood flow. Begin two to four inches above the bite (towards the heart), winding around and moving up, then back down over the bite and past it towards the hand or foot. Do not use tourniquets.
• Draw a circle, if possible, around the affected area. As time progresses, you will see improvement or worsening at the site more clearly. This is a useful strategy to follow any local reaction or infection.
The limb should then be rested, and perhaps immobilized with a splint or sling. The less movement there is, the better. Keep the patient on bed rest, with the bite site lower than the heart for 24-48 hours. This strategy also works for bites from venomous lizards, like Gila monsters.
It is no longer recommended to make an incision and try to suck out the venom with your mouth. If done more than 3 minutes after the actual bite, it would remove perhaps 1/1000 of the venom and could cause damage or infection to the bitten area. A Sawyer Extractor (a syringe with a suction cup) is more modern, but is also fairly ineffective in eliminating more than a small amount of the venom. These methods fail, mostly, due to the speed at which the venom is absorbed.“