CHOC Children's
COMMON INJURY/POISON :: Bites and Stings

Snake Bites

Facts about snake bites:

Each year, approximately 7,000 people receive bites from venomous snakes in the United States. Even a bite from a non-venomous snake can cause infection or allergic reaction in some people. For maximum safety treat all snake bites as if they were venomous and get to a hospital emergency room as quickly as possible, especially if you are unsure of the exact type of snake responsible for the bite.

People who frequent wilderness areas, camp, hike, picnic, or live in snake-inhabited areas should be aware of the potential dangers posed by venomous snakes. These people should:

  • know how to identify venomous snakes.
  • carry a snakebite kit and know how to use it.
  • have access to transportation and medical assistance in case of emergency.

What snakes are venomous?

Only about 5 percent, or roughly 25 species of snakes in the US are venomous. The most common venomous snakebites are caused by the following snakes:

  • pit vipers - rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouth (water moccasin) snakes
  • coral snakes

Rattlesnake bites cause most of the venomous bites in the US. Coral snakes cause less than 1 percent of venomous snakebites.

What are the symptoms of snake bites?

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of snake bite, amount of venom injected, and size and general health of the snake bite victim. Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • bloody wound discharge
  • fang marks in the skin
  • swelling at the site of the bite which may progress to an entire extremity within hours
  • severe localized pain, burning and warmth
  • discoloration
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the area
  • nausea or vomiting
  • excessive sweating
  • fever or chills
  • weakness, dizziness, or fainting
  • difficulty swallowing
  • numbness and tingling
  • altered mental state
  • generalized bleeding or hemorrhage
  • seizures
  • shock

Treatment for venomous snake bites:

Remain calm and reassure your child that you can help. Specific treatment for a snake bite will be determined by your child's physician. Treatment may include:

  • Move the child to a nearby safe area, away from the snake.
  • Call for emergency assistance immediately. Antivenin should be given within four hours when possible. It is not usually effective if given more than 12 hours after the bite. While waiting for emergency assistance:
    • have your child lie down, rest, and keep calm.
    • wash the bite with soap and water.
    • keep warm and avoid cooling the area to prevent further tissue damage.
    • remove all rings, watches, and constrictive clothing in case of swelling.
    • loosely immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart.
    • do not give your child anything to eat or drink.
    • monitor heart rate and breathing.
    • use a pump suction device if available and follow manufacturer’s directions for use (this can be placed over the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making a cut)
    • note the time of the bite so that it can be reported to an emergency room physician if needed
    • do not apply a tourniquet
  • If it is possible to kill the snake without further harm to yourself or your child, it is important to do so. Remember, however, the snake may bite up to 1 hour after being killed due to reflexes. Place the snake in a glass jar or plastic container so it can be positively identified.

Once in the hospital, treatment may include the use of antivenin, an antitoxin specific to the venom of a particular animal or insect. Treatment may also include lab work, pain or sedation medications, tetanus booster, antibiotics, and supportive care.

Preventing snake bites:

Some bites, such as those inflicted when your child accidentally step on a snake in the woods, are nearly impossible to prevent. However, there are precautions that can reduce your child's chances of being bitten by a snake. These include:

  • Teach your child to leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get too close to it.
  • Make sure your child stays out of tall grass unless he/she wears thick leather boots and remains on hiking paths as much as possible.
  • Make sure your child keeps his/her hands and feet out of areas he/she cannot see. He/she should not pick up rocks or firewood unless the child is out of a snake's striking distance.
  • Teach your child to be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.

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Online Resources of Common Childhood Injuries & Poisonings

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It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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