By Ellie Matama
North America has its fair share of venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes, coral snakes and copperheads. According to a The U.S. Food and Drug Administration report, an estimated 8000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year. Roughly .2% of these people will die from these snake bites. The rest have to deal with the unpleasant effects the snakebites, which may include infections and amputations.
Statistically, most snake encounters will happen in the outdoors. Does this mean that you should give up pleasurable activities like swimming, hiking, or camping? Of course not!
What you need to do instead, is to learn how to prevent snakebites and survive them. Here are tips on how to do so.
Avoid snakes or their habitats
Take time to learn about the kind of snakes that are present in the outdoor areas you will visit or stay. What are the habits of the snakes? Where are they most likely to stay? What do they look like?
Use the knowledge that you have gained to avoid snakes and their habitats. Avoid water bodies where water snakes like water moccasins are known to stay. Stay away from tall grass and bushes. Marshes and swamps are a no-no too unless you have no other choice.
Do not succumb to the temptation to stick your hands and feet into crevasses and holes in the ground or within logs. That’s just asking for trouble. Also, take care when you climb trees. Snakes are good tree climbers, which mean that you may end up encountering them high above the ground. Do not provoke snakes that want nothing to do with you. In the battle of man vs. angry, venomous snake, you will lose – badly.
How would you like to end up with two fang marks on your butt when doing your business in the bushes? Well, that could happen if you do not take the time to look around you.
Always have a powerful flashlight for nighttime. The last thing you want is to come face-to-face with an angry snake that was just minding its business.
Snakes have been known to attack from a distance of up to ½ of their body length. In the dark, you would have no chance of escaping from a snake that is near you. Having a flashlight would give you the warning you need to stay away from danger.
Do not sleep with the enemy
Never make the mistake of sleeping outdoors or with your tent open. You may just wake up to the sound of a rattle!
Before you go to sleep, make sure that your tent is properly secured and fastened. Make sure that you get rid of any foods that would attract snakes to your camp site. Keep your campsite fires burning throughout the night. Most snakes tend to come out at night because they hate the heat of the day.
Wear protective clothing
Open-toed shoes and ill-fitting clothing have no place in the outdoors if you are looking to avoid snakebites. Wear loose fitting pants and thick boots before you venture into the outdoors. Your lower extremities are more vulnerable to snake attacks so you need to protect them as best as you can.
Use thick gloves if you are going to move things like logs or haul wood or brush. The more layers you have between you and snake fangs, the safer you will be.
Surviving snakebites in the outdoors
Even the best plans tend to go awry at certain times. It’s therefore in your best interest to know how to survive a snakebite should the need arise.
Snakebite symptoms include puncture marks on your body, stinging pain, nausea, dizziness, labored breathing, disturbed vision, sweating, or numbness in affected limbs. Once you notice these symptoms, it’s time to go into survival mode. Your life may depend on it. So, how should you go about surviving snake bites? What should you do?
The temptation to run around like a headless chicken once bitten will be immense. Don’t give in to it. You need to remain as calm as possible, to reduce the rate at which venom is circulating through your body. Stay immobile first as you try to work out a reasonable course of action. Avoid drinking stimulants like coffee during this time. Alcohol is not good, either.
You have a far better chance of better medical treatment will be more effective if you can identify the snake that bit you. Look at your physical surroundings. Were you bitten on land or water? Try to identify the offending snake by color and pattern if you can. But, do not go chasing after it!
Call for help from those around you
If you are in the outdoors with other people, do not be ashamed to scream for help. People around you will be in a better position to help you survive a venomous snake bite since they will be thinking clearly.
Call emergency medical services
If you are alone, call 911 and tell them where you are, and the kind of snake that is responsible for your misery. Be as clear and as calm as possible. The faster the emergency personnel get to you, the earlier you will be treated.
Lower your affected limb
You need to lower the limb which has been affected directly by the snakebite. The limb should be lower than your heart. This will slow down the rate at which the venom spreads.
Clean your wounds
If possible, use a piece of material to wipe the initial venom away from the wound and keep it for reference. It can be used to identify the type of venom in your body. You can then wash your affected body parts with soap and water as thoroughly as you can. After that, cover that area with a clean dressing and wait for professional help.
Additional first aid treatment
If you are a bit far away from medical help, you need to help yourself. Tie a bandage about 2-4 inches above the bite wound. This will slow down even further, the spread of venom. Be sure, however, to leave a little bit of space to allow for circulation and prevent tissue damage.
Remove any constricting jewelry and items of clothing around the affected part of the body. Snake bites tend to cause swelling. Restrictive materials will, therefore, affect your circulation.
Do not use tourniquets, ice baths, or electric treatments. Do not suction the venom from the bite wound. It would just lead to the spread via your mouth. Avoid making any cuts to drain the venom unless you are trained and know what you are doing. Otherwise, you may cause more bleeding, infection, and spread of venom.
There are debates on the efficacy of snake bite kits. However, when medical help is far away, you should consider using it to enhance your chances of survival. Make sure that you follow the instructions provided to the letter. If help is too far away (more than an hour), immobilize the part of your body with the snakebite wound and find a way to walk or drive for help. Rest every 20 minutes or so. Be sure to have your cell phone in hand and keep on informing the emergency professionals of your new location.
Most snake attacks that occur in North America are not fatal. However, some are. The key to enjoying the outdoors, avoiding a snake attack or surviving one is in how you handle yourself. So be careful with your health and stay calm. You will live to tell the story.
Ellie Matama is a Kenya-based freelance writer that has been writing since 2011. She makes plans to travel around the world.