Treatment for Snakebite               Snakeboots      

Dr. John C. Perez is the Program Director of:  NTRC(7465 bytes) 


If you are involved in activities requiring you to be out in the field where venomous snakes occur NEVER hike, camp or collect specimens unless accompanied by at least two companions. In the event of a snakebite, one should stay with the victim and the other should go for help. Everyone should know what to do in the event of a snakebite incident.

You should also prepare and carry an emergency snakebite kit. With the essential items in the snakebite kit, and the ability to apply them rapidly without panic or confusion, you can buy precious time and help save the life of the victim in the event of a snakebite.


Snakebite kits can be prepared easily and relatively inexpensively. Start by obtaining a small canvas pouch such as those available in any army-navy surplus store. Include the following items:

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)At least one roll each of 2" and 3" ACE or comparable elastic   
    bandaging with clips.
sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Several sterile 4 x 4 surgical gauze pads.
sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)A small bottle of betadine solution.
sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)One roll each of 1/2" and 1" surgical adhesive tape. (Do not
    use paper or clear plastic tape).
sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)
Sawyer Extractors, or similar extractor devise. These devises
    are available in most camping gear, hunting/fishing or
    outdoors shops.

The following are general guidelines that should be adhered to in case of an individual being bitten by a venomous snake.

What NOT To Do If Bitten By A Venomous Snake:

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)DO NOT permit removal of pressure dressings or ACE bandage until the victim is at a facility ready and able to administer antivenom. As soon as the dressings are released the venom will spread causing the usual expected problems of a venomous snakebite.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not eat or drink anything unless okayed by physician.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not engage in strenuous physical activity.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not apply oral (mouth) suction to bite.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not cut into or incise bite marks with a blade.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not drink any alcohol or use any medication.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not apply either hot or cold packs.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not apply a narrow, constrictive tourniquet such as a belt, necktie or  cord.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Do not use a stun gun or electric shock of any kind.


4.1 Procedures for On-Campus Snakebites

The following are minimum guidelines that should be adhered to in case of a snakebite in the NTRC Serpentarium.

  1. Do not Administer Drugs or Antivenom.
  2. IMMEDIATELY contact UPD at ext. 2611 and have them transport the patient to Spohn Kleberg Hospital. Instruct UPD Dispatch to inform the hospital that a snakebite victim is being transported to the hospital.
  3. IMMEDIATELY inform hospital staff to contact South Texas Poison Center (1-800-764-7661).
  4. Contact the Laboratory Director by phone as soon as possible. In the absence of the Laboratory Director contact the NTRC Director. In the absence of NTRC Director Contact the Department Chairman of Biology.
  5. Contact the family of the victim.
  6. With the help of the Laboratory Director fill out an incident report within 24 hours of the incident.

4.2 First Aid Treatment of Snakebites in the Field

The following are minimum guidelines that should be adhered to in case of a snakebite in the field.

  1. Allow bite to bleed freely for 15-30 seconds.
  2. Cleanse and rapidly disinfect area with Betadine or Alcohol pad
  3. If bitten on the hand, finger, foot or toe, wrap leg/arm rapidly with Ace Bandage past the knee or elbow joint immobilizing it.
  4. Leave area of fang marks open.
  5. Apply Sawyer Extractor immediately until there is no more drainage from fang marks. (See specific instructions for Sawyer Extractor Kit.)
  6. Cleanse and disinfect bite area again.
  7. Apply hard direct pressure over bite using a 4 x 4 gauze pad folded in half.
  8. Soak gauze pad in Betadine(TM) solution if available, but only if victim is not allergic to iodines.
  9. Strap gauze pad tightly in place with adhesive tape.
  10. Over-wrap dressing above and below bite area with additional ACE bandage.
  11. Wrap ACE (elastic) bandage as tight as one would for a sprain but not too tight to cut off circulation.
  12. Check for pulses above and below elastic wrap; if absent it is too tight.
  13. Use splinting to immobilize bitten extremity.
  14. If possible, try and keep bitten extremity below heart level or in a gravity dependent position.
  15. Visual identification / description of the offending snake is necessary for medical purposes.
  16. Bites to face, torso or buttocks are more problematic. Disinfect first. Prep (shave hair) area with razor provided in extractor kit.
  17. Use extractor device until there is no further drainage possible and then apply pressure dressing with gauze pad and tape.
  18. Go to nearest hospital or medical facility as soon as possible.
  19. IMMEDIATELY inform hospital staff to contact South Texas Poison Center (1-800-764-7661).

4.3 Procedures for Sawyer Extractor Kit

The Extractor pump creates a powerful suction designed to remove venom from the body by sucking it out the same cavity (fang or stinger track) through which it was injected. If necessary to improve suction, use the safety razor provided to remove body hair from the bitten area. Other techniques for improving suction include wetting or covering the surface under the suction cup with petroleum jelly or Vitamin A&D ointment to help provide a seal.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Select suction cup size depending on area of body bitten as well as distance between multiple fang punctures. Insert the smaller end into the extractor nozzle.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Pull the plunger out to its fullest extent and place the cup firmly over the bite or sting.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Using the thumb, push the plunger all the way down until you feel the suction and let the
    pump remove the poison.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Insect bites take up to 90 seconds of continuous application for effective removal of venom. Due to spreading factors of snake venom, suction for only the first few minutes after a snakebite is beneficial but you can continue applying vacuum for as long as possible if you are getting results (fluid removal in the cup).

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)In snakebites it is recommended to use one extractor device over one fang track. For maximum efficiency two fang tracks require two extractors placed simultaneously and separately over each mark. Applying a pressure bandage above the bite marks pushes the venom toward the vacuum exerted by the extractor device. If you only have one extractor device on hand place the device over one fang track at a time and alternate between separate fang tracks every two minutes for up to 10 minutes if you are getting results.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Pull the plunger up gently to release the vacuum. If present, venom mixed with body
   fluids will be visible on the skin. Wipe away carefully and avoid splatter. Disinfect
   bite-site with alcohol wipes or pour betadine on wounds and dress with bandages.

sm_bullet.gif (911 bytes)Seek medical attention.

warning.gif (1085 bytes)  NOTICE  warning.gif (1085 bytes)

The spread of venom to vital organs can be life-threatening and there is no way of knowing how life-threatening a snakebite is in the first moments of the event. Many North American pit viper bites (rattlesnake, moccasin and copperhead) are myolytic and hemolytic. A significant injection of venom may reach one of the body's most important muscles - the heart.

The use of elastic bandages for containment / sequestration for a North American pit viper bite is felt by some to increase the risk of a disfiguring local tissue injury, which may necessitate skin grafts and treatment once the acute, life-threatening phase of the event has passed.

Therefore, users of this first-aid treatment method must recognize that there is a trade-off: containment as a life-saving measure at the risk of local tissue or even kidney damage, which while not necessarily life-threatening, could be disfiguring, painful and / or could require prolonged and extensive follow-up treatment.

Appendix - D- prepared by:
rightarrow.jpg (1305 bytes)  Dr. John C. Perez, NTRC Program Director     leftarrow.jpg (1336 bytes)
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Department of Biology
September, 1997