Poisonous snake bites are uncommon in children, however children are naturally curious about these fascinating animals and often venture into snake habitat. In the United States there are about 8000 reported poisonous snake bites per year in adults and children. 99% of poisonous snake bites in the United States are caused by rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins (or cottonmouths). Historically there are typically less than 15 deaths per year due to snakebites and most of these are caused by rattlesnakes.
How do I know it’s a snake bite?
Usually this is obvious, but a young or surprised child may not be able to tell you what happened. A typical snake bite appears as 2 puncture marks with surrounding redness on an exposed skin area… often a hand, foot, leg or arm.
How do I know it’s a poisonous snake?
It helps to know what venomous snakes look like. In general the snakes head shape will help determine if it is poisonous. A diamond shaped head with a skinny neck is usually poisonous. Snakes with a narrow triangle-shaped head are typically not poisonous. In the United States, copperheads are common. They have a brown hourglass-shaped design on there body. Rattlesnakes have a rattle on the tail that they use to scare enemies. The rattle sound is loud and obvious. Cottonmouths are aggressive snakes that attack with an open mouth that appears white on the inside.
The symptoms of a poisonous snake bite can be divided into 2 categories: Nerve effects and vascular effects. The nerve effects include: weakness, tingling or numbness at the bite site, sweating, salivation, double vision, slurred speech, breathing difficulty or paralysis. Vascular effects include: intense pain, swelling, rapid heart rate, vomiting, increased bruising and bleeding. In children, swelling in an arm or leg may cause compression of nerves and blood vessels and this may require surgery to release the pressure.
How are snakebites treated?
The best treatment is to go to a hospital as soon as possible. The child should remain calm and limit movement. Other first aid treatments such as ice, cutting the wound, sucking out the poison, and applying a tight tourniquet are no longer recommended.
At the hospital, doctor will check blood tests and inspect the site for excess swelling. Anti-venom is available for the most common types of snake bites. Surprisingly, children often require a larger dose of anti-venom than adults because the poison is more concentrated in their small bodies.
It is helpful to the medical team if you can safely bring in the snake, a picture of the snake or a detailed description of the snake.
Non-poisonous snake bites should be treated like any other animal bite. Antibiotics and a tetanus shot may be necessary.
Most snake bites can be avoided by using common sense. Snakes are generally afraid of humans and will only bite when provoked.
Photographer: LA Dawson
Animal courtesy of Austin Reptile Service
Last Updated (Sunday, 29 August 2010 10:49)