Most snakes will only attack you if you get in their way, but snakes can bite you and their venom can be deadly. We spoke with Frank T. Burbrink, Associate Curator in the Department of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History and Coyote Peterson, host of the Brave Wilderness channel on YouTube, to find out what to do if one of them sinks its fangs into you. Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Uh oh, you’ve just been bitten by a snake. So, what do you do now?
Indiana Jones: Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes?
Narrator: There are about 3,000 different species of snakes in the world, both venomous and non-venomous. While they can be deadly, most snakes are only likely to bite you in self defence.
Frank Burbrink studies snakes at the American Museum of Natural History.
Frank Burbrink: The most venomous snake in the world is the inland taipan from Australia. But it really doesn’t envenomate that many people so many people don’t actually die from this animal.
Narrator: Some other snakes are less venomous but more likely to lash out at you. Like the Russell’s vipers in India.
Burbrink: And if you’re in the United States, you have the Mojave rattlesnake, it’s pretty rough in terms of venom, and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.
Narrator: About 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten each year by venomous snakes in the United States. But only about 5 of those actually die as a result. So as long as you know what to do, and how to treat a bite, you have a good shot at surviving. The first thing you want to do when bitten, is try not to freak out.
Coyote Peterson: When you’re bitten by something that’s venomous trust me, you know it right from the start. The most important thing you can do, is stay calm. Keep that venom from spreading faster.
Narrator: Coyote Peterson hosts a wildlife show on YouTube in which he shows what it’s like to be bitten and stung by various creatures. So he knows a thing or two about snake bites.
Peterson: So let’s say you’re bitten by a snake and you’re out in the middle of the desert and you think, “Oh no, I’ve been bitten, “I need to run as fast as I can to get help.” Worst thing you can do because that’s only going to make your heart pump faster and it’s going to spread that venom further. You want to kinda keep the arm elevated, keep yourself calm.
Narrator: While you shouldn’t run, you still want to get medical attention as soon as possible. And don’t wait until the symptoms appear.
Burbrink: There are many instances of people that don’t go to doctors for days and they suffer either death or severe tissue damage, you can lose hands, fingers.
Narrator: Aside from the pain, there are a number of different ways your body might react. There will likely be redness and swelling around the wound. You may feel nauseous and it might become more difficult to breathe. Your limbs might go numb, your vision may blur and you may start salivating and sweating.
There are two main types of venom in snakes that affect you differently. The first is called hemotoxic venom. And it’s found in vipers.
Burbrink: The ones from viperids, which are hemotoxins which destroy tissue and are incredibly painful.
Narrator: The second type is called neurotoxic and it can be found in cobras and coral snakes.
Burbrink: So the neurotoxic paralyzes muscles and then eventually causes you to stop breathing, OK? And that’s much less painful.
Narrator: A common misconception when it comes to snake bites, is that you should suck the venom out.
You make an incision and you suck out the poison.
Burbrink: It’s based on a complete misunderstanding of how venom is injected into your system. I mean, if you took a shot of any chemical, opioids or anything else, once it’s in your body, there’s no way to pull that out with human suction.
Narrator: And sucking can also make things worse.
Peterson: If you have any sort of a sore in your mouth, it can be canker sore, it can be a little cut on your tooth from flossing, that is how the venom gets into your blood system. So actually putting venom in your mouth can be really really bad for you.
Narrator: You don’t want to try to catch the snake. But you should try to remember what it looks like so you can get the correct treatment or anti-venom.
Burbrink: But if you know you’re envenomated because you’ve been bitten and it really starts hurting like putting white hot needles into your skin or your muscles. If you feel that sensation, you know you’ve been envenomated. But you’re not sure by what and the snake is still there, everybody carries a cell phone, take a photo of it.
Narrator: If you can’t make it to help right away. Wash the bite with soap and water. But don’t apply ice or submerse it in water. You can cover it with a clean bandage until help arrives. But don’t apply a tourniquet.
Burbrink: Some people do stuff where they try to put tourniquets on there if you don’t know what you’re doing with that, you can cause a lot of damage and it’s probably better to leave that alone unless you’re a medical expert, right. People often would tie them too tight and cut off circulation and then you’re trapping venom into certain parts of your body. I’d just, it’s just not a good idea right.
Narrator: Even if a venomous snake bites you, there’s a chance it’s just a dry bite, meaning no venom was injected into your system. So what if the snake is non-venomous?
Peterson: I’ve been bit by many non-venomous snake species and most snakes have an anti-coagulant in their saliva. That anti-coagulant basically sort of causes you to bleed more than necessary, but as a long as it’s not venomous all you need to do is wash out that bite with soap and water and you should be jut fine.
Narrator: The best advice is to keep your distance. And avoid being bitten all together.
Peterson: Always admire snakes from a safe distance. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to getting up close with these reptiles.
Burbrink: They are really gentle animals. They don’t want you to mess with them. They’re fearful of you. If you see them, don’t mess with them. Just appreciate their colours. There’s not going to come and attack you unless you corner them or do something to harm them.
Narrator: Heed this advice and you won’t be hissstory.
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