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Snakebite 101

How to avoid getting bit, what to do if you do, and other important tips.

Each year, an estimated 8,000 Americans are bitten by venomous snakes, with the vast majority occuring during the spring and summer months.

This year, that number might grow. As people itch to get outside amid the ongoing pandemic, medical authorities nationwide have reported more snake bites than average: near Los Angeles and in the Bay Area, in Peoria and Phoenix, and in North Carolina, Texas, and Nevada.

Heading outside? Here’s a quick primer on what you should know about venomous snake bites.

What to wear

The snakes you should be aware of

In the US, venomous snakes are either pit vipers or coral snakes:

For a visual guide to the rattlesnakes and other pit vipers in your local area,
please visit this interactive map of the United States:

How to avoid snakes

It’s important to know that snakes are not looking to bite you. However, they do blend into their environment – odds are that if you get bit, you’ll have inadvertently stepped on or threatened one. With that in mind, the following precautions may help as you venture outdoors:

What to do if you see a snake

What to do if you get bitten

Typically, a venomous snake bite will cause pain, swelling, and/or burning at the site of the bite (usually within 15-30 minutes); other symptoms may include nausea, shortness of breath, and a general feeling of weakness.

At this point, the first and most important thing to do is call 911 and/or find directions to the nearest hospital. Ideally, the victim should rest, keep the wound at or above heart level, and wait for an ambulance. Oftentimes, however, this isn’t possible, as hikers may be far from the road and outside cell phone range.

Whatever the case, here are some important points to remember:

Time is Tissue!

Delays in treatment can lead to further cellular damage, therefore get the bite victim to the Emergency Room, as quickly as possible!

Remove Constrictions

Remove their jewelry and any tight-fitting clothes, including shoes.

Take Photos to Track Venom Progression

Take a new photo every 15 minutes until you get to the Emergency Room, capturing the bite zone and any red swollen areas. This will help the doctor's diagnosis on arrival at the Emergency Room.

Elevate Wound

Keep the bitten limb raised to the level of the heart (e.g. drape the arm over the chest).

Keep the victim as still as possible

Any unnecessary increase in heart rate can increase the rate at which the venom spreads.

Do take Tylenol for pain, if needed

But do not use aspirin, ibuprofen or other painkillers that can thin the blood.

What not to do if bitten

There are several myths and misconceptions about the treatment of snake envenomation. Despite what you may have heard, or seen in the movies, please avoid the following, which are unlikely to help and might make the envenomation worse:

If safe to do so, taking a photo of the snake may be helpful for identification, but most emergency rooms prefer you do NOT bring the snake, living or dead, into the hospital.

Want to be really prepared? Download BTG’s free SnakeBite911 app

BTG’s SnakeBite911 app provides life-saving tips, tools, and resources for outdoor enthusiasts and the first responders who, in case of an emergency, will treat them. For instance, the app:

Other Helpful Resources: