One of the hazards of living where we do is the occurrence of rattlesnakes. We don’t see them often this far north, but every year someone gets bit. Would you know what to do if you got bit? Most people today know not to “cut and suck” as we were taught years ago, yet you can still buy the same ol’ snake bite kit that promotes just that. When I see them in stores I don’t know whether to laugh or get angry.
So here’s a list of dos and don’ts as taught in the American Heart Association First Aid classes.
Do get away from the snake immediately.
Do call 911 immediately— the sooner you get antivenom, the better, and this emergency probably means a helicopter ride.
Do keep calm and still. Keep the bite area immobilized.
Do wash the wound thoroughly.
Do remove tight clothing or jewelry in case of swelling.
Do note the time of the bite.
Do mark on the skin the leading edge of the swelling. If swelling progresses, keep marking it, noting the time of each new demarcation.
Do monitor breathing and pulse rate. Note any changes and report these to the EMTs when they arrive.
Don’t cut the wound or try to suck out the poison. This is ineffective and could lead to infection.
Don’t apply ice to the wound. Cold can actually drive the poison deeper into the body.
Don’t apply a tourniquet above the bite. If your trip to the hospital is going to be prolonged, EMTs may decide to apply a compression bandage.
Don’t get up and walk around unless you are alone and cannot call for help without moving to a different location.
Don’t drink alcohol to calm your nerves or decrease the pain as this will increase your metabolism and cause the poison to spread faster.
Don’t try to capture or kill the snake. Physicians rarely need to know what kind of snake bit the victim. The fangs will release venom for many hours after death and even a decapitated head is very dangerous.
Don’t decide to just drive yourself to the hospital. Antivenom isn’t available at every hospital. When you call 911, dispatch starts calling to find out which hospital has antivenom on that particular day, and that’s where you will be taken—usually by helicopter.
Fortunately, most bites are ‘dry’ bites. Adult snakes won’t waste their venom on something that is too big to eat. Young snakes, however, haven’t learned to control their venom and will release a full load with every bite, so be especially cautious of young snakes. Even knowing that many bites are dry bites, don’t take chances—call 911 anyway.
If your dog gets bit by a rattlesnake, follow the same directions as above. Also, try giving your dog Benadryl, 1 mg per pound, to help reduce swelling and get to the vet as soon as possible. The pediatric liquid Benadryl is an easy way to dose your dog.
(Ed. Dogs can be given rattlesnake shots to help reduce the danger from snake bite reactions—see your vet about this. Also snake bite kits are useful for one thing—to pull out the anticoagulant a mosquito injects which causes swelling and itching.)