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It is not an easy task determining whether or not a bite by any species of snake is life-threatening. A bite by a North American copperhead on the ankle is usually a moderate injury to a healthy adult, but a bite to a child's abdomen or face by the same snake may be fatal. The outcome of all snakebites depends on a multitude of factors: the size, physical condition, and temperature of the snake, the age and physical condition of the victim, the area and tissue bitten (e.g., foot, torso, vein or muscle, etc.), the amount of venom injected, the time it takes for the patient to find treatment, and finally the quality of that treatment. Promptly securing qualified medical treatment is the best course of action, and conservative management in the meantime is recommended.
Treatment for Snake Bites
- Protect the patient (and others, including yourself) from further bites. While identifying the species is desirable in certain regions, do not risk further bites or delay proper medical treatment by attempting to capture or kill the snake. If the snake has not already fled, carefully remove the victim from the immediate area.
- Keep the victim calm. Acute stress reaction increases blood flow and endangers the patient. Keep people near the patient calm. Panic is infectious and compromises judgment.
- Call for help to arrange for transport to the nearest hospital emergency room, where antivenom for snakes common to the area will often be available.
- Make sure to keep the bitten limb in a functional position and below the victim's heart level so as to minimize blood returning to the heart and other organs of the body.
- Do not give the patient anything to eat or drink. This is especially important with consumable alcohol, a known vasodilator which will speed up the absorption of venom. Do not administer stimulants or pain medications to the victim, unless specifically directed to do so by a physician.
- Remove any items or clothing which may constrict the bitten limb if it swells (rings, bracelets, watches, footwear, etc.)
- Keep the victim as still as possible.
- Do not incise the bitten site.