Treating and Preventing Snake Bites

By Wayne Lundstrom, WVU Safety and Health Extension

It is estimated that between 7,000 and 8,000 people a year receive venomous bites in the United States, and about five of those people die. Some experts say that because people who are bitten can’t always positively identify a snake, they should seek prompt care for any bite, though they may think the snake is nonvenomous. Even a bite from a so-called “harmless” snake can cause an infection or allergic reaction in some individuals.

Manage Your Risk!

Some bites, such as those inflicted when snakes are accidentally stepped on or encountered in wilderness settings, are nearly impossible to prevent. But experts say a few precautions can lower the risk of being bitten: Timber Rattler snake

  • Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get a closer look at it.
  • Stay out of tall grass unless you wear thick leather boots.
  • Keep hands and feet out of areas you can’t see.
  • Don’t pick up rocks or firewood unless you are out of a snake’s striking distance. (A snake can strike half its length)
  • Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.

Two of the most venomous snakes, the Copper Head and Timber Rattler, are found commonly in West Virginia.

Treating a Snake Bite

What if you do get bitten? Over the years, snakebite victims have been exposed to all kinds self treatments before receiving medical care. Some of these approaches, like cutting into a bite and attempting to suck out the venom, have largely fallen out of favor. Many health-care professionals embrace just a few basic first-aid techniques. According to the American Red Cross, these steps should be taken:

  • Wash the bite with soap and water
  • Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart
  • Get medical help

For more information about venomous snakes and how to prevent bites, visit the CDC.