How to Prevent and Treat Snake Bites

snake bites

Do you know how many species of snake live in Vermont?

According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, there are 11 species in the state. Almost all of these snakes are harmless. The only venomous snakes in Vermont are a handful of timber rattlesnakes living in small pockets in Rutland County. They are considered endangered in the state.

In the wild, you’re far more likely to run into a harmless garter snake. And when it comes to venomous snakes, the Northern New England Poison Center is more likely to get a call about an exotic snake that someone has kept as a pet.

Snakes tend to bite only if upset or scared, so taking steps to avoid startling or disturbing them is the best way to prevent snake bites. If you happen upon a rattlesnake, it will use its rattle to let you know it feels threatened. Never touch or handle a snake, even if you’re trying to help it.

Wearing long pants and gloves when working outside can also help prevent a bite if you and a snake surprise each other.

Symptoms of a snake bite

If you do get bitten by a snake, pain and swelling at the bite site are typical symptoms.

If you are bitten by a timber rattlesnake this swelling can be severe, and over the next few days the bite area may change colors (red, black and blue) and form large blisters.

Other rattlesnake bite symptoms may appear in the first few hours:

  • Stomach upset, vomiting
  • Metallic taste in your mouth
  • Numbness or tingling around your mouth, arms and legs
  • Weakness
  • Muscle twitching
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Severe swelling in your tongue and lips, which can block your airway

A snake bite can also cause an allergic reaction or lead to an infection.

Treatment for snake bites

If you are bitten by a snake, call the poison center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. If the snake was venomous, the poison center can walk you through the first treatment steps and then provide guidance to the hospital once you arrive. If the bite victim has passed out or is having trouble breathing, call 911.

Other steps to take right after a snake bite:

  • Stay calm and still.
  • Remove all jewelry and tight clothing.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water, and apply a clean, dry dressing.
  • Keep the part of body that was bitten straight and at heart level.

Some things should avoid:

  • Do not try to remove the venom by sucking it out or cutting the wound.
  • Do not apply cold or heat.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not drink alcohol or caffeine.

After any snake bite, proper wound care is important. Get a tetanus shot if you are not up to date on your vaccination. Keep the area clean and covered while it heals, and see a health care provider if the wound shows signs of infection or if you think a piece of the snake tooth is still in the bite area.

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