Throughout the world, it is estimated there are a minimum of 1 to 2 million annual snakebite incidents (this number includes bites by non-venomous species). Of that number, roughly 50,000 to 100,000 bites result in fatalities worldwide. The country with the largest number of annual snakebite deaths is the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka.
Each year in the United States there are approximately 5,000 - 7,000 venomous snakebites, but generally only 10 - 15 are fatal. In Australia, the country with the highest percentage of deadly snakes, just 3 to 4 people are killed by venomous snakes yearly.
What to do if bitten:
- Remain calm - death from most snake bites is not instantaneous.
- Apply a splint to the bitten limb to restrict muscle contraction.
- GO IMMEDIATELY TO THE HOSPITAL! At the hospital, they will administer antivenom, if needed. Antivenom is the only effective treatment available for treating snakebites in the U.S.
- Avoid anything that thins your blood or accelerates your heart rate: alcohol, cigarettes, aspirin, etc.
What NOT to do if bitten:
Do not attempt the following, they can cause harm and waste your valuable time getting qualified medical attention.
- DO NOT
- use a tourniquet. A tourniquet is extremely painful and will cut blood flow to the wounded limb. This may cause the limb to die and require amputation.
- DO NOT
- cut X’s over the fang marks and suck out the venom. Snake venom spreads quickly and efficiently through the lymphatic system. It is almost impossible to cut deep enough, quickly enough, or to suck hard enough to pull an adequate amount of venom out to make a difference.
- DO NOT
- apply ice to slow the spread of venom.
- DO NOT
- “electrocute” the bitten area to neutralize the venom.
These will cause severe pain, permanent tissue damage, and possible amputation.
Variable Snake Bite Factors
- Snake Venom
- Snake venom is modified saliva, a combination of many different proteins and enzymes. Each one of these proteins and enzymes can either act alone, or in combination with the others. When one of these reacts with another, it causes an entirely new reaction. As it repeats, one enzyme/protein reacts with another and another and another…until it ultimately causes a domino effect involving many areas of the body and becoming a clinical nightmare to treat.
- Health Factors
- There are innumerable combinations of variables that affect the outcome of a snake envenomation. The size, age, and health of both the snake and the person bitten are important factors. Body temperature, even mood, of a particular snake plus the toxicity and quantity of venom delivered by that snake can all make a very big difference in the outcome of the bite.
- Amount of Venom
- Snakes have complete control over how much venom they inject anytime they bite. So one could get a “dry” bite, with no venom in it whatsoever, or a particularly annoyed snake might inject its maximum amount. Interestingly, studies have also shown that the toxicity of the venom in a particular snake can vary a small amount from season to season and even day to day.
- The location of the bite is another consideration, along with route of injection, and even sensitivity and/or allergies of the person bitten. Add in the potential for a severe infection, and it is safe to say there are many variables that will affect the outcome of a snake bite.
- Types of Toxins
- Some snakes affect the nervous system with a neurotoxic venom; others have an effect on the tissue and blood with a haemotoxic venom. But, there are actually more than these two well known types of toxins, as well as countless combinations of them. Examples are: myotoxins, cardiotoxins, haemotoxins, and neurotoxins. No snake possesses just one type, as each snake tends to have a different combination of toxins. It is this variable combination that makes reactions to bites from different species so different.
- Read more about snake venom »