Snake season: Proceed with caution

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2002

Features Editor

With the extremely dry weather, people working and playing outside and more houses being built in rural areas, it’s a prime time for snakes.

And, where there are snakes there is potential for danger, as to which three recent snake bite victims can attest.

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Dr. Alan Young

said people of all ages should be aware that the dry spring has snakes on the move looking for water.

"Because of the dry weather, snakes are out more because they are trying to get to water," Young said. "Their skin needs moist air so it doesn’t dry out. I don’t mean to say there is going to be a snake holocaust, but we do need to be very careful when in locations where snakes might be."

Young said, with more people building houses on land that was previously farm land and in places where snakes had never seen a human, the potential for coming face-to-face with a snake has increased.

Awareness is the best prevention against snake bites.

In weeded areas, around bushes, in rocky places, under logs, in woodpiles, under houses, in gardens, in any dark, cool, moist place – that’s where snakes might be.

"Watch where you step and where you put your hands," Young said. "A snake is more afraid of you than you are of him. You might not think so, but it’s true. A snake won’t usually attack unless it’s provoked or cornered. If a snake is cornered, it will strike. Moccasins are more aggressive and I’ve heard they will attack at times."

In the event a person it bitten by a snake, it is important, perhaps even to the point of saving one’s life, that a person know what to do and what not to do.

"The best thing to do for a snake bite is not to get bitten," Young said with a smile. "The thing to remember is that more people die each year from insect bites than from snake bites, so your chances of surviving a snake bite are good if you can get treatment in a reasonable length of time."

For years, the first aid for a snake bite was to apply a tourniquet between the wound and the heart, make crosscuts over each fang puncture and suck the blood from the wound.

"But, we know that we don’t ever want to do that," Young said. "Unless the bite hits a main vein, the poison spreads through the lymphatic system, so there is no need or reason to bleed the wound. A tourniquet can shut off the blood flow and cause a lot of damage."

Young also said "no" to applying ice to a snake bite.

"The purpose of the ice was supposed to be to slow the blood flow, but the ice can cause local tissue damage and the swelling around the bite mark is already preventing blood flow," he said. "You don’t want to cause any tissue damage."

So, what’s a snake bite victim to do?

"Stay as calm as possible and get medical attention as soon as possible," Young said. "If you can get to a hospital in around 30 minutes, don’t do anything. Don’t dilly-dally around trying to kill the snake because you waste valuable time doing that, you become more excited and you risk the chance of getting bitten again. Get to a doctor. That’s what you want to do."

While waiting for an ambulance or traveling to a hospital, Young said it is important to keep the wound at the same level as the heart.

"If you are a long distance from a hospital or doctor, you might apply a light tourniquet between the bite and the heart," he said. "It should be loose enough that two fingers can slide under it. You don’t want the tourniquet so tight you cut off the blood flow."

Young said a snake bite is a serious thing and anyone who is bitten should get medical attention immediately.

Depending on the severity of the bite and the circumstances surrounding it, for most, the chances of survival are good.

"We have anti-venoms that are very effective," Young said. "There is always the concern that there can be complications from a snake bite, so being aware of the potential presence of snakes and knowing what to do if bitten are two ways to prevent being a victim of a snake bite."

In the case of snake bites, an ounce of prevention is worth 10 vials of cure.