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First Aid and Emergencies

Snake Bites

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

In North America, rattlesnakes inflict most poisonous snake bites. Other poisonous snakes in North America are copperheads, cottonmouths (also called water moccasins), and coral snakes. Even if a poisonous snake bites you, it

may not inject poison. However, if your skin is broken by the bite, assume that poison has been injected.

If you are bitten by a snake and it is safe for someone who is with you to kill the snake, have the person do so, and take the dead snake with you when you get medical care. Be very careful when handling the dead snake. The snake's biting reflex remains for up to 60 minutes after it has died. By knowing what kind of snake has bitten you, a health professional can quickly select the correct treatment.

Get medical care as quickly as possible. Medication for snake bites is most effective when given within 4 hours and is less effective after more than 12 hours have passed.


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  • Be aware if the area you are in is inhabited by poisonous snakes.

  • Wear high leather boots and long pants when you are in areas that snakes inhabit.

  • Do not put your hands or feet anywhere until you can see that it is safe to do so. Do not step over logs or rocks if you cannot see the other side.

  • Avoid walking in snake-infested areas at night.

  • Do not handle snakes, even if they are dead, unless you know how to identify snakes and know their habits.

Home Treatment

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If you think you have been bitten by a poisonous snake:

  • Keep calm. Frantic activity will cause the poison to spread faster.

  • If possible, lie down and keep the area of the bite lower than your heart.

  • Tie a band or strip of cloth around the limb between the bite and the heart. This band should be tight enough to indent the skin like a rubber band, but not tight enough to stop blood flow.

  • Do not eat or drink anything, especially alcoholic beverages.

  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

  • Snake bite kits are of minimal benefit. Use them only if you have been instructed how to do so by an expert.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or seek emergency services if you think that you or someone you are with has just been bitten by a poisonous snake.

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