Snake Bite 411

To be honest, I’m not even sure what the title of the movie was. It was one of those westerns that fills the time on cable channels where you happen to stumble upon it when the football game you were watching is a blow-out and channel surfing seems a decent option.

After not too many clicks, I found the cowboy. He was cautiously creeping through the desert and sage brush, six-gun in hand, eyes and jaw clenched, watching out for trouble. However he didn’t see the snake, coiled to strike, just a foot or so from his leg.

And STRIKE the snake did. The cowboy yelled to his companions while falling to ground, clutching his leg in pain. 

His friends, concerned and worried, came to his aid quickly. One of the cowboys used a knife and cut off the pant leg.  Another grabbed the leg and desperately tried to suck out the venom. The third quickly crafted a tourniquet using his bandana and a stick he found nearby. Once it was attached, they helped the injured cowboy onto a horse and the party franticly road away to get help.

However, except for taking the snake bite victim to get help, THE CARE PROVIDED WAS WRONG.

Dr. Sean Bush isn’t sure how the snake bite first-aid popularized in movies got started, but he admits many people are familiar with it and try to perform it themselves. That’s why he gave me this advice to pass on if you or someone you are with is bitten by a snake:

  • Call 911 and get the victim to the hospital as quickly as possible. With a snake bite, time is tissue, so the quicker the victim gets to the hospital, the less tissue damage will occur.
  • Make sure the victim can breath comfortably.
  • Maintain the snake-bitten limb in a neutral position of comfort.
  • Remove rings, watches, etc because snake venom will cause swelling.
  • Take a photo of the bite area if possible.

NO incision, suction, ice or tourniquets are needed. If a tourniquet is already placed, leave it on until it can be removed from the hospital and the anti-venom can be administered. While the tourniquet will slow the spread of venom into the body, it concentrates the venom in the limb with the bite, thus increasing tissue damage. Releasing the tourniquet before the anti-venom is administered spreads the venom quickly through the body, which can “shock” the victim and cause a lot of damage very fast.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

Related Resources:

  • Video: The Snake Doctor
  • Lesson Plan

North Carolina Science Now