Snake Bite Prevention Tips: Quarantine Edition

Avoiding the emergency department is a good life goal. These days with a global pandemic afoot, there’s never been a better reason to avoid the hospital altogether. But as the weather turns warm in the South, hungry reptiles begin to emerge and hunt for food. Couple this with populations of individuals self-isolating at home, or otherwise outdoors and not at work, the risk of snakebite may be going up. 

Under otherwise normal circumstances, we could realistically care for envenomated patients in the hospital with supportive care and antivenom. However, with the need to reserve every possible bed for COVID-19 patients, snakebite prevention is paramount. There are simple things anyone can do to help avoid a snake encounter and to minimize the risk of envenomation.

Don’t Touch!

Your mother should’ve told you this but… don’t touch snakes. Even if they’re dead. There are cases where deceased snakes have envenomated individuals who were touching the snake. This includes severed heads. If you do discover, call your local wildlife experts for advice on how to safely manage this discovery.

REI Is Your Friend (if it was open)

If you’re going outdoors, wear appropriate footwear. On hikes, solid hiking boots or shoes that can protect your ankle from injury due to a slip or fall are a standard safety measure. But they can also double as snakebite prevention. Same thing with long pants. While the fang of the snake may still penetrate the boot/pant leg, it may prevent penetration to your skin. And stay on the trail. A good rule of thumb is you should be able to see where you’re putting your foot (or hand if there’s climbing involved).

Walking around in your own yard, provided it is well kept is another matter. While snakes could be hiding in long grass, woodpiles, leaf piles, or other flowers/plant beds, they’re less likely to be in the middle of a yard. With that said, there is still a risk they could be there. So while running around in bare feet seems nice, it’s not a brilliant idea. 

Work, Work, Work

Let’s not forget that the yard work still needs to be done. But doing so shouldn’t put your health at risk. But by simply wearing leather gloves, boots, and long pants while working outdoors can minimize the chance you’ll be envenomated if you happen across a snake in a brush pile you didn’t see. Furthermore, don’t rely on “I’ll just look out for snakes.” Their millions of years of evolution mean you won’t see them until it’s too late. Particularly if you’re in a geographic region where you’re more likely to encounter a Copperhead (in the Crotalid family, but generally does not have a rattle).

As much as we focus on appropriate footwear, many snake bites are located on the hands. A frequent cause is reaching into an area you can’t see: between rocks/logs, an overturned bucket, under a deck, or in utility access points. Many times, people suffer a snakebite because they were reaching into a bush and felt like they got stuck with a thorn. The key to preventing snake bites in here is to only stick your hand somewhere you can see.

If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a snake bite, there are four key principles for first aid:

  1. Establish a time and date of initial bite, estimation of time to arrive at a medical facility, and separating the victim from the snake, if possible. 
  2. Snake-bite kits to suck/shock/inactivate the venom are all ineffective and potentially harmful. But you can attempt to slow the spread of venom should by calming the patient which helps lower the heart rate. Also, if possible, immobilize the affected limb and maintain at the level of the heart. 
  3. Some suggest when feasible and safe, it is reasonable to the identity of the snake. I’m not certain I would always agree with this since we treat the patient based on symptoms – not based on the specific snake, it can be informative in predicting unique symptoms (like neurologic manifestations from a Mojave).

Native vs Non-Native Snakes

This information is also only relevant to snake bites from native North American Pit Vipers. It essentially does not apply anywhere else. Furthermore, since “Florida Man” is out there spreading non-native venomous snakes, there is always a risk of an exotic envenomation here in the USA. Similarly, these envenomations require expert consultation.

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