How to Survive Snakebite Season

Of all the disasters that can befall us wilderness explorers, few shake our boots quite like the snakebite. A recent Gallup poll asked Americans what it was they feared the most, and snakes topped the list with more than 50%, over such frights as heights and the dreaded public speaking.

The video of a rattlesnake strike below is enough to make your skin crawl. A fear of snakes is no reason to avoid the wilderness, though.

Relax. Here are some reassuring facts about snakebites.

  • Of all the snakes you might encounter in North America, about 10% of them are poisonous.
  • There are around 8,000 snakebites each year in the U.S., resulting in only about 8-15 deaths.
  • As long as a snakebite victim visits a modern medical facility quickly, survival rates are very high.
  • Snakes would much rather use their energy and venom on small varmints for food rather than on you just to be scary.

Relax. There are plenty of ways to avoid snakebites.

  • 50 to 70 percent of reptile bites managed by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center were provoked by the person who was bitten. Translation: If you don’t handle or bother a snake, odds are amazingly good that you won’t be bitten.
  • Deep grass, wood piles, and rock crevices are a snake’s favorite spots. Keeping your hands, feet, and faces out of those areas and your chances of survival increase drastically. If you must work or walk in these areas, wear sturdy ankle-high boots with tough pants or gaiters.
  • Walking around in the dark? Wear a headlamp, carry a flashlight, or stay in well-lit areas to avoid disturbing an innocent snake.
  • Snakes can still bite for a few hours after they die. If you see one smashed on the road, leave it there.
  • Remain relatively sober when camping and exploring the wilderness. Snakebites invariably happen to stumbling drunks who lack the coordination or brains to know when to leave well enough alone.

Relax. If you’re in the modern world, odds are good you’ll survive the bite.

  • According the the Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona (who know a thing or two about rattlers), your car keys are the most essential survival tool for a snakebite. After a bite, don’t mess around. Get in the car and get to a hospital.
  • Snakebite suction kits, tight tourniquets, and restrictive clothing all keep the venom concentrated in one area, and that’s bad. Loosen clothing, help the person to remain calm and still, and get medical attention.
  • Don’t bother trying to photograph, catch, or kill the offending snake. You’re just wasting time and increasing the odds of dealing with yet another snakebite victim. If you can remember it’s general appearance, that will help.
  • Get medical attention even if you’re totally 100% convinced that the snake was not poisonous. These bites can still cause nasty infections, pain, and there’s always the slim chance you could be totally 100% wrong.