Survival Doctor: Tips for avoiding a snakebite

By: James Hubbard Special to The Gazette
May 21, 2013
photo - The Survival Doctor James Hubbard
The Survival Doctor James Hubbard 

I don't know about you, but I don't like snakes.

I know the vast majority are nonvenomous and are good to have around because they eat pesky, disease-carrying rodents. And some of the nonvenomous snakes, such as king snakes and racers, kill the dangerous snakes. But that doesn't mean my skin doesn't crawl if I see one.

Fortunately, the most common type to avoid in Colorado comes with a warning - the rattle. When you're hiking, consider wearing high-top shoes and thick jeans and always watch your step.

Here's what to do if you happen upon one:

- Walk away. Snakes are shy. They don't want to waste venom on humans, who are too big to eat. They only snap when they feel threatened.

- Sometimes walk a little faster. Occasionally, snakes get confused and crawl toward us, but the fastest they've been clocked is 3 mph - our average walking rate. So just pick up your speed a bit.

- Don't tease or pick up the snake, even with a stick. Many get bitten this way. Some rattlers grow to 8 feet, and they can strike as far as half their body length. Do the math.

- Don't mess with a dead one. The bite reflex from a snake can continue to be active for up to 90 minutes after death.

What to do if bitten

- Try not to panic. Venomous snakes only inject venom about 80 percent of the time. About 50 percent of the time do they inject a lot. Your chance of surviving a poisonous snakebite is 95 percent (99.5 percent with antivenin).

- Try to determine if a bite is from a venomous snake. Usually you'll see one or two fang marks. If venom has been injected, you'll have severe pain, and swelling will start quickly in most cases.

- Get to a medical facility. If you need antivenin, it's best to receive it within four hours of the bite. If you have a cellphone, you might need to call for help. If you have to walk out and the bite is on the leg or foot, make a crutch out of a tree branch.

- Try to drink plenty of noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic liquids. Stop if you vomit, but otherwise drink as much as you can. All the swelling that might occur around the bite can dehydrate you quickly.

- If you can't get to a medical facility, clean the marks with soap and water, and keep the bite area at heart level or above to limit swelling.

What not to do if bitten

- Don't cut into the marks. It doesn't help and increases your risk for infection.

- Don't try to suck out the poison, even with instruments made for this. It wastes time and never has been proven to work.

- Don't use ice. It can damage tissue further.

- Don't use a tourniquet. It damages tissue, and when it's released, you can get a sudden surge of venom.


Family doctor James Hubbard teaches how to survive during disasters or any time you can't get expert medical help at

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