Should You Hike With a Snake Bite Kit?

Snake Bite Kit - Rattle SnakeSnake Bite Myth:

I was watching an old western movie the other day and one of the characters was bitten by a rattlesnake.  Their trusty companion put a tourniquet on his upper arm, then took out their 10” knife and proceeded to cut a deep slit around the wound site and then tried to suck out the venom.  This worked and the man was saved.

Is this really what you should do if you or someone in your group is bitten?   From many different doctors, the answer is a definite no.  What about a Snake Bite Kit, are these effective?

Let’s look at the entire snake bite question.

Snakes: (Something we can sink our teeth into)

So I love to look at snakes, I think they are an absolutely beautiful creature.  Their markings are works of art.  Let me just say, that I also like them to be behind glass when I am viewing them.  I have encountered a few snakes on the trail, some poisonous and others harmless.  I still watched them, but from a safe distance.  Most just slithered off the trail and we both went on our way.

So, what about the poisonous ones?  There are two basic families of poisonous snakes in the U.S.;

  • Crotalids (Pit Vipers): These include the Copperhead, Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin and the multiple varieties of Rattlesnake.
  • Elapids : Eastern and Arizona Coral Snake

The Pit Vipers have long hollow fangs which are quite effective at injecting venom, hemolytic toxins.  Even though their venom is less toxic than the Coral Snake, they are considered more dangerous because;

  • They are larger and able to inject a larger volume of venom.
  • They are more likely to strike at humans.
  • Their injection method is extremely efficient.

Venom injection (envenomation) only occurs 20 to 30 percent, but always treat the bite as if it has.  The symptoms are almost immediate with;

  • Pain and swelling at the site and, depending on the severity, on toward the heart
  • The wound will turn black and blue
  • Increased pulse and breathing rates
  • Sweating and Chills
  • Headache and blurred vision
  • Severe pain
  • Skin discoloration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased thirst

Coral snakes are known to be a lot less aggressive than Vipers and the occurrences of people being bitten is extremely low, less than 2% of all snake bites. The Coral Snake, unlike the Pit Viper, has ridged fangs and does not directly inject the venom.  It grabs onto the victim and proceeds to chew on the area, thus creating a gash where the venom can migrate into.  The venom, a neurotoxin,  may be stronger than the Pit Viper, but you may not have symptoms for up to 12 hours.  Do not make the mistake thinking you are okay and did not receive any venom.   Symptoms here include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Tingling or prickly feelings.
  • Drooping eyelids.
  • Respiratory distress.
  • Headache and blurred vision
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Mouth watering
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Swallowing difficulty, Swelling of tongue and throat
  • Skin color changes
  • Stomach or abdominal pain
  • Paralysis
  • Shock

First Aid:

  • The most effective treatment for a poisonous snakebite is to receive a shot of antivenin.  (to assist the doctor or medical professional, have everyone in your group look at the snake so that a proper identification can be made.  This doesn’t mean, go hunting for the snake or try to pick up the snake.  Don’t antagonize it.  No one else needs to get bit. )  Because antivenin is the best possible treatment, evacuation to the nearest medical facility is imperative.  Until then;
  • The first thing is to keep the victim as calm as possible.
  • If you have a Sawyer snake bite kit or one with a suction device, follow the instructions and use it on the bite.  (This device’s effectiveness is still speculative.  It has been stated that it is effective in removing as much as 30% of the venom.)
  • Do not make any more cuts in the skin.  This is not an effective treatment and actually can cause more harm.
  • Because the area will swell, remove any rings or other items that would constrict the limb.
  • Create a splint to help restrict movement.
  • Keep the affected area below heart level.
  • Monitor their vitals.

Evacuation:

  • Carrying the victim out is preferred, this will minimize their movement.  If that is not possible, have them walk out slowly.
  • If evacuation is impossible, monitor their vitals, have them drink plenty of fluids, keep them still, laying down.  Procure emergency rescue medical help.

Snakebites, through movies, the media and general fear of the creatures have become a larger than life myth.  The likely hood of you being bitten by a snake is not as great as you imagine.  In addition, a  snakebite is extremely serious, but it is not a death sentence.  The best precaution a hiker can take is to be vigilant on the trail.  Carrying a snake bite kit is probably a good idea when hiking in a poisonous snake habitat.  A snake will not attack unless it feels threatened or is cornered.  Don’t stick your hand under large rocks and be careful when stepping over logs.

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