Snake Bites

Snake Bites Bob was walking in the woods one day when his life was put in great danger. He had just stepped over a log when he felt a sharp sting on the back of his leg. He looked down and saw two small puncture wounds on his leg. The stinging sensation instantly went throughout his body and that was when he saw a snake still laying beside the log he had just stepped over. Bob had many questions running through his head.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if the snake was poisonous. Bob began to panic. What next? Is Bob going to live? We will find out later but first lets learn more about the dangers of snakebites. What are snake bites? Snake bites are wounds inflicted by the mouth of a snake. A wound from a snake with short teeth and no fangs may look like a series of scratches or tiny punctures.

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The twin puncture wounds usually associated with snakebites appear when the paired fangs of a fanged snake break through the skin.(Encarta 99) Snakebites from nonpoisonous snakes are not serious but should be cleansed with an antiseptic to prevent infection. The bite of a poisonous snake, which can inject venom into the body, may cause a burning pain usually spreads rapidly from the place where you have been bitten. Swelling and color changes in the skin follow soon after. A person may feel feverish, thirsty, and sick at their stomach. They may even vomit.(Diseases-Encyclopedia) Bites by coral snakes produce somewhat different symptoms, including numbness, vision problems, and difficulty swallowing.(Diseases-Encyclopedia) The victim of a snakebite should seek first aid promptly.

An attempt should be made to identify the snake if it can be done safely. First aid measures should focus on keeping the victim quiet so that the heart rate remains normal, thereby slowing the spread of venom in the bloodstream. The area of the bite should be kept below the level of the heart. The victim should seek medical attention immediately. Depending upon the victim’s symptoms and the species of the snake, the physician may administer antivenin, a preparation that helps to neutralize the venom and minimize its harmful effects.(Encarta96) The venom of poisonous snakes is produced and stored in specialized glands within the snake’s head. In the United States, there are four types of poisonous snakes: coral snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths, or water moccasins.

With the exception of coral snakes, all these snakes are pit vipers.(Encarta99) Responsible for most snake attacks on human beings, pit vipers have the most efficient fangs for injecting venom. Their fangs are hollow, curved, and so long that they fold back into the mouth when not in use. Their venom mostly affects the circulatory system, but it also causes disruption of normal nervous system function.(Encarta99) Coral snakes have short, fixed fangs in the front of the mouth and they hang onto and chew their victims. Unlike vipers, coral snakes bite only when they are being handled or are accidentally touched or stepped on. Their venom primarily affects the nervous system.(Encatta99) When walking in areas where poisonous snakes are present, individuals should wear high boots and thick loose pants, and should remain alert in order to avoid close encounters with these reptiles.

Individuals should also be able to distinguish between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes.(Encarta99) People who frequent these wilderness spots, as well as those who camp, hike, picnic, or live in snake-inhabited areas, should be aware of potential dangers posed by venomous snakes. Every state but Maine, Alaska and Hawaii is home to at least one of 20 domestic poisonous snake species. A bite from one of these, in which the snake may inject varying degrees of toxic venom, should always be considered a medical emergency, says the American Red Cross.(For Goodness Snakes) About 8,000 people a year receive venomous bites in the United States nine to 15 victims die. Some experts say that because victims can’t always positively identify a snake, they should seek prompt care for any bite, though they may think the snake is nonpoisonous. Even a bite from a so-called harmless snake can cause an infection or allergic reaction in some people.(For Goodness Snakes) Types of Venomous Snakes Two families of venomous snakes are native to the United States.

The vast majority are pit vipers, of the family Crotalidae, which include rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths (water moccasins). Pit vipers get their common name from a small pit between the eye and nostril that allows the snake to sense prey at night. They deliver venom through two fangs the snake can retract at rest but can spring into biting position rapidly. About 99 percent of the venomous bites in this country are from pit vipers. Some–Mojave rattlesnakes or canebrake rattlesnakes, for example–carry a neurotoxic venom that can affect the brain or spinal cord. Copperheads, on the other hand, have milder and less dangerous venom that sometimes may not require antivenin treatment.(For Goodness Snakes) The other family of domestic poisonous snakes is Elapidae, which includes two species of coral snakes found mainly in the Southern states. Related to the much more dangerous Asian cobras and kraits, coral snakes have small mouths and short teeth, which give them a less efficient venom delivery than pit vipers. People bitten by coral snakes lack the characteristic fang marks of pit vipers, sometimes making the bite hard to detect.

Though coral snakebites are rare in the United States–only about 25 a year by some estimates–the snake’s neurotoxic venom can be dangerous. A 1987 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined 39 victims of coral snakebites. There were no deaths, but several victims experienced respiratory paralysis, one of the hazards of neurotoxic venom. Some nonpoisonous snakes, such as the scarlet king snake, mimic the bright red, yellow and black coloration of the coral snake. This potential for confusion underscores the importance of seeking care for any snakebite (unless positive identification of a nonpoisonous snake can be made).

The bites of both pit vipers and coral snakes can be effectively treated with antivenin. But other factors, such as time elapsed since being bitten and care taken before arriving at the hospital, also are critical.(For Goodness Snakes) Medical Treatments Medical professionals sometimes disagree about the best way to manage poisonous snakebites. Some physicians hold off on immediate treatment, opting for observation of the patient to gauge a bite’s seriousness. Procedures such as fasciotomy, a surgical treatment of tissue around the bite, have some supporters. But most often, doctors turn to the antidote to snake venom–antivenin–as a reliable treatment for serious snakebites.(For Goodness Snakes) Antivenin is derived from antibodies created in a horse’s blood serum when the animal is injected with snake venom. In humans, antivenin is administered either through the veins or injected into muscle and works by neutralizing snake venom that has entered the body.

Because antivenin is obtained from horses, snakebite victims sensitive to horse products must be carefully mana …


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