What do if you get a snake bite

Feb 1, 2010 at 5:57 p.m. ET

According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes every year in the US. Though a very small percentage of snake bites result in death, immediate treatment is important to avoid venom-related complications.

Biting Snake

The venomous snakes in the US include: rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth or water moccasins, and coral snakes. People most at risk are those who work outdoors or spend a great deal of time outdoors, but even a single short outing on a summer day can put you or your family at risk of being bit.


Puncture wounds
Redness, swelling and pain at the bite
Nausea and vomiting
Labored breathing
Vision problems
Numbness or tingling around the face or limbs
Most people know they have been bitten by a snake. If possible, remember the color and markings of the snake so you can describe it to emergency medical personnel. Do not try to catch the snake.


Immediately call 911 and, as difficult as it may be, stay as calm and quiet as possible. Sit with the bite below the level of the heart. Wash the bite with warm soap and water. Cover it with clean, dry dressing. Though a popular response to a snake bite in the movies, do not slash the wound and suck the venom out. In addition, do not apply ice or a tourniquet, and avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine, which can increase the spread of venom.


The best way to avoid a snake bite is to steer clear of snake-infested areas. If your family is going for a hike or spending time outdoors where there is a snake risk, wear boots, long pants and even leather gloves if you are going to be in tall brush or playing in rocks. Snakes tend to be active at night and in warm weather; consider limiting your outdoor time to mornings when the weather is cooler.