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Snake bite basics

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There are two types of snakes – venomous and non-venomous. It is important to remember that venomous snake bites are often life-threatening that requires immediate medical attention. Non-venomous snake bites, however, still need first aid assistance because it the victim could become at risk for infection. Although most North American snakes are non-venomous, there are exceptions to these including the rattlesnake, water moccasins, coral snakes and copperhead snakes.

Avoiding snake bites

Snake bites could be avoided just by simply backing away from the snake, especially when it is a venomous one. Remember that snakes are the ones who often avoid people and they only bite once they feel surprised or threatened. In any case, never touch a snake, particularly if you do not know how to distinguish a venomous from a non-venomous snake.

If you have been bitten by a snake and you do not know if it is venomous or not, here are the things that you must do immediately:

  • Call emergency assistance as soon as possible. If the site of the snake bite changes in color and appearance, it is likely venomous, so seeking emergency attention is needed immediately after you have been bitten.
  • Remain calm – staying anxious or nervous could likely increase your breathing and blood pressure, which could make the venom circulate faster on your blood streams.
  • Immobilize the site of the snake bite – immobilizing the affected part could help slow down the spread of the venom in the body.
Use of splint is one way to immobilize the site of the snake bite.

Use of splint is one way to immobilize the site of the snake bite.

  • Always position the bite lower than the heart level. Most snake bites are located at the lower extremities (because of accidental stepping on the snake), so the best position is to lie on your back.
  • Never suck out the venom or cut the wound, as this may cause further injuries to the patient.
  • Cleanse the wound with iodine solution, but do not flush it with water. The purpose of this is to prevent infections as likely as possible.
  • Never apply a tourniquet on the snake bite, because this could constrict the blood vessels and cause complications on the injury site.
  • In order for the medical professionals to administer the right type of anti-venom, it would be helpful if you could remember the color, shape and appearance of the snake. But because most snake bites are stressful on the part of the victim, recalling the snake could be hard to do, so if you have a friend with you during the incident, it would be helpful to let him/her verify the characteristics of the snake.

Learn more about other animal bite first aid treatments by enrolling in a first aid course. Check out our locations page for more information on first aid courses in your area.

Related Video on Snake Bites:


“First Aid & Emergencies: Snakebite Treatment.” Web MD. Retrieved online on July 22, 2014 from

“Snake Bites.” Medline Plus. Retrieved online on July 22, 2014 from

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