Summer is the season for getting outdoors!
But when you’re going for a walk, on a hike or mowing the lawn, you’ll want to watch your step. Snakes also tend to be more active outdoors this time of year. The cold-blooded animals typically hibernate during the winter months, re-emerging from their dens during the warmer months.
While you may not be a fan of snakes, sometimes the best way to handle a snake encounter is to not react at all.
“You don’t have to kill every snake you see. You can just walk away from it, and in those cases, almost nobody gets bitten,” Coben Thorn, MD, one of our emergency medicine physicians, explains. “Typically, when you’re trying to kill it, mess with it or take a close photo of it, you’re going to be much more likely to get bitten.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says only about 10 percent of snakes in the United States are venomous. They’re typically characterized by having a big, broad, triangular shaped head and elliptical pupils like a cat. Some also have a hole on their face, between the eye and nose, for heat sensing. The pattern on their skin can also be a clue, but Dr. Thorn has a word of warning.
“You probably shouldn’t get close enough to know whether it’s venomous or not,” he cautions. “The one clear giveaway is if they have a rattle, and if that’s the case, you need to get away from that snake because those are the most dangerous and deadly.”
So, what happens if you do end up with a snake bite?
Dr. Thorn advises against trying to do anything you may have seen done in the movies or on TV and instead call 911 right away.
“Don’t tie a tourniquet or use electricity on it,” he says. “Don’t start trying to suck venom out of the wound. Just use soap and water to rinse the area just like you would with any other cut. Then, get to the emergency department closest to you.”
Not only can emergency medicine providers assess the wound, but they’re also better prepared for treatment.
The only anecdote for venomous snake bites is a medication that only emergency departments stock.
This means you won’t find it at your local urgent care or primary care provider’s office. As for trying to determine whether you’ll need that treatment, Dr. Thorn has one request.
“I would not advise bringing the snake in with you to the emergency department – that’s happened multiple times,” he says. “We’ve seen them in big five-gallon buckets, sometimes still alive.”
Instead of scaring the medical team and potentially putting others at risk of being bitten, just snap a photo from a safe distance if you’re able to. If not, you can always describe your attacker to help doctors figure out the best way to treat you.
Learn more about the emergency care services we offer at Bon Secours.