Snake Bites

Pit vipers – rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads – inject venom through two hollow needlelike fangs.

Coral snakes are also poisonous, but they are much less common than pit vipers. Unlike pit vipers, coral snakes do not have hollow fangs, but rather short (less than t/8 inch) rigid grooved pegs. Therefore, they must gnaw on their victim to inject venom.

If a child has been bitten by a snake, identifying the particular type is important but not critical. Even if the snake has been killed, the head should be preserved to make identification easier. Be very careful when handling dead poisonous snakes be-cause their strike reflex can cause a venom-injecting bite up to an hour after they are killed.

Snake Bite Symptoms

When a pit viper strike has injected venom, swelling and/or pain almost always occurs within 30 minutes. Anyone who has been bitten by one of these snakes should be en route to the hospital before this much time has elapsed.

Snake Bite Treatment

First aid for a snakebite victim is quite simple:

Don’t panic; keep the victim as calm as possible. Activity speeds the spread of venom.

Splint the bitten part and keep it slightly below heart level if possible.

Transport the victim to the nearest hospital immediately.

There is almost no evidence that cutting the bite site and applying suction will remove much venom. There is clear evidence that in untrained hands this practice can lead to tissue damage and infection. There may be some benefit from removing venom from a wound, without incision, using newer suction devices.

The use of tourniquets is not recommended because they are difficult to apply correctly and can cut off blood supply to the affected limb. A lightly constricting band six to ten inches above the bite site, in conjunction with the first aid measures above, may slow the spread of venom. Application of an ice pack may also be helpful. The victim should be observed in the emergency department for at least four hours before a “dry strike” is diagnosed. Any symptoms of en-venomation (venom injection) will be treated with antivenin, and the child will be admitted to the hospital. Antibiotics are frequently used even in dry strikes because these puncture wounds are easily infected. A tetanus booster is usually given if the victim has not had one in the past five years.


Prevention of snakebites lies mainly in recognizing poisonous snakes and staying clear of them. Pit vipers are readily identified by their triangular/arrow-shaped heads and oblong (like a cat’s). All native North American snakes with oblong pupils are poisonous. Coral snakes have round heads and bright red, black, and yellow bands around them. They always have a black-tipped head, which has given rise to the warning “If the head tack, get back.” About 15 nonpoisonous snakes mimic the coral-snake color pattern, but the coral snake is unique in having its red bands next to yellow bands. If the red band is next to a band, the snake is a nonpoisonous mimic.