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Snakebites a concern as weather warms

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May 15, 2013 | 2,017 views | Post a comment

Baylor College of Medicine

HOUSTON -- Warmer weather coaxes snakes out of hiding, and it’s important to know what to do after a snakebite, according to a medical toxicologist at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM).

“Many people don’t realize how much of an issue snakebites 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 snakebites -- 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 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.

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

•Don’t apply a tourniquet or a constriction band.

•Don’t apply ice; it can cause local tissue damage.

•Don’t 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 snakebites 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 said. “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 are necessary.

“Ideally, patients should be evaluated by a medical toxicologist with experience in managing snakebites,” Greene said.

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.

Need help with snakes?
If you aren’t sure what kind of snake you are dealing with, or you need help with ideas about how to keep them away from your house and yard, there are folks who can help. Visit the South Texas Herpetology Association website at SouthTexasHerpetology or check out
Local volunteers may also be available to assist with the safe removal of snakes from your property. For more information, call:
•Jeff Dominguez at 210-264-
•Blaine Eaton at 210-508-2358
•Cam Posey at 210-632-1799
•K. Royer at 210-775-6030.

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