Get ready for snake bite season

Houston medical expert warns about venomous snakes

HOUSTON - In 2012, Houston's regional poison center had 235 reports of snake bites, including 148 from known venomous snakes, according to a medical toxicologist at Baylor College of Medicine.  "I am sure many more are going unreported," said Dr. Spencer Greene.

"Many people don't realize how much of an issue snake bites are in this area of the country," said Greene.  He warns that warmer weather coaxes snakes out of hiding, and it's important to know what to do after a snake bite.

According to Greene, the first step is avoidance.  "Never reach into a hole or a bush blindly, a snake may be resting there," he said. "It is also important to maintain an appropriate distance from a snake. Most pit vipers, which include rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins, can strike at a target up to two-thirds of their body length when provoked."

Greene said the management of snake bites has changed over the years and the newer type of anti-venom has proven to be effective in reducing pain, bleeding complications, swelling and tissue damage. Although anti-venom has been shown to have the maximum effectiveness within the first 12 hours of the bite, it can still be effective a few days after the bite.

At the hospital, physicians will determine if anti-venom and hospital admission is necessary.

"Ideally, patients should be evaluated by a medical toxicologist with experience in managing snake bites," said Greene.

If bitten by a snake, the expert has this advice:

  • Call 911 immediately to be evaluated.
  • Take off anything that is constricting the affected area, such as a ring or watch.
  • Position the affected area at or above heart level. This means that if you are bitten on the hand, bring it to heart level, and if you're bitten on the leg or foot, elevate it if possible. This minimizes the amount of local tissue damage and swelling, which is the most common finding in pit viper bites.
  • Go to the emergency room – the sooner the better.

Greene also dispels several myths about treating snake bites and suggests heeding the following advice:

  • Do not apply a tourniquet or a constriction band.
  • Do not apply ice; it can cause local tissue damage.
  • Do not apply heat.
  • Don't cut the affected area and attempt to suck the venom out – this increases the amount of local tissue damage.
  • Don't use a commercially-available extraction device. These have also shown to be ineffective in removing venom and actually increase the amount of tissue damage.
  • Don't use electrical therapy.
  • Don't apply any type of lotions or ointments.

 "Ideally, patients should be evaluated by a medical toxicologist with experience in managing snake bites," said Greene.



Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.