Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Extractor and the Initial Treatment of Snakebites

This is the outer packaging of "The Extractor".   This can be found on internet sources, and in outdoor supply stores such as Dick's Sporting Goods, REI, Cabela's and many others.
             Recently, I have been receiving questions on how to treat snake bites and other envenomation injuries.  Interestingly, there is a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of outdated and archaic treatment information is still out there.

              With regard to snake bites, experts agree first on what not to do:


What Not To Do

Though U.S. medical professionals may not agree on every aspect of what to do for snakebite first aid, they are nearly unanimous in their views of what not to do. Among their recommendations:
  • No ice or any other type of cooling on the bite. Research has shown this to be potentially harmful. The same applies for  hot  packs.
  • No tourniquets. This cuts blood flow completely and may result in loss of the affected limb.
  • No electric shock. This method is under study and has yet to be proven effective. It could harm the victim.
  • No incisions in the wound. Such measures have not been proven useful and may cause further injury.
  • Do not eat or drink anything unless advised by medical sources.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical activity.
  • Do not drink any alcohol or use any medication.
  • Do not apply oral (mouth) suction to bite.
  • Do not remove dressings/elastic wraps until arrival at hospital and antivenom (more correctly, antivenin) is ready and available.
  • Do not waste time or take any risks trying to kill or catch (to bring in) the snake responsible for the bite. (Although a quickly snapped picture with a cellphone might be helpful)
    (This data is found at:

The ideal treatment is to wash the wound with soap and water,  immobilize the wound keeping it lower than the heart, keep your patient calm and transport to a hospital immediately.

  • If a victim is unable to reach medical care within 30 minutes, a bandage, wrapped two to four inches above the bite, may help slow venom. The bandage should not cut off blood flow from a vein or artery. A good rule of thumb is to make the band loose enough that a finger can slip under it. The bandage should be a crepe or elastic bandage and should be wrapped as you would for a sprain.
  • A suction device*  may be placed over the bite to help draw venom out of the wound without making cuts. Suction instruments often are included in commercial snakebite kits.

    * My own personal recommendation is to have the Extractor brand Complete Bite and Sting Kit on hand.  This is the only device marketed which has been proven to extract venom, and the more venom you extract without skin and regional damage to the patient, the better off you are.

After purchasing one or two Extractors, one for the house, and one for your evacuation kit, you should open it and familiarize yourself with the articles in the box and the procedure for its use.

                 The extractor is beneficial because when applied as directed, it exerts a gentle pulling action which helps to drain venom, WITHOUT creating additional cuts or injuries which will furthur damage the skin, and can lead to infection. It is essential that you open the package, assemble the item, and understand its use prior to an envenomation injury.

           Some hospitals have a variety of antivenins available, but most do not.  They often have cooperative arrangements in which one would stock the antivenin for one type of bite, and another hospital will stock one for another.  When they are needed, they will send over the needed antivenin to the other hospital via courier.
Because snakebite injuries are not common, they may not be very speedy about the actions which need to be taken.

This is information on different types of antivenin.  Most types are fairly expensive and do expire, and this is why hospitals tend to cooperate with one another, rather than buy them all.

(Photo: )

Important References:

Here in Virginia, we have a variety of snakes.  The venomous snakes of importance are

1.)  Northern Copperhead

2.)  Eastern Cottonmouth

  3.)  Timber rattlesnake

Venom information:

 This chart is the work of :  The Virginia Herpetological Society   and may be found at:

Crotalus horridus horridus (Timber Rattlesnake)

Fall Update and 2011 Timber Rattlesnake Summary
Timber Rattlesnake - Tier IV, Southeastern populations - Tier II


        On our farm, copperheads are common, and they are one of the few things we actually kill here.  Cottonmouth are said to be possible here, though we have never seen one, and we have yet to see a Timber rattlesnake here, although this is why we never lie or sit on the grass, and why we do not walk around here in sandals.  Despite this possibility, most of the snakes here, I would not characterize as harmless, because a bite can cause a serious infection, but I would characterize them as non-venomous.  All snake bites should be seen by a physician. 

      The non-venomous snakes which are found in Virginia are:

This chart is the work of:    The Virginia Herpetological Society and can be found:

nringneck1.jpg (55286 bytes)
sringneck1.jpg (92940 bytes)
Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis glr.jpg (65969 bytes)
Pantherophis alleghaniensis (Eastern Ratsnake)
(formerly Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta (Black Ratsnake)
npine1.jpg (62454 bytes)
Northern red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata)lr.jpg (93918 bytes)

          It is really important to know what types of snakes are possible where you are, and what types of snakes are the most common.  Snakes don't hunt us down with an eye to killing us.  We simply infringe upon their areas sometimes in the course of maintaining or enjoying our own properties, or sometimes they find their way into a place where we are more likely to encounter them, like a woodpile, deck steps, a driveway, or toolsheds, or even rockpiles, or an old well.

These are listing of venomous snakes in each of the United States:

These are listings of  snakes in Canada, including one which is venomous and found in some regions:

Please become familiar with the snakes where you reside.

Readers are encouraged to obtain competent medical device for treatment of all envenomation injuries ESPECIALLY SNAKEBITES as quickly as possible.  This posting is designed to provide starting points for first aid alone, and not complete treatment.  You should familiarize yourself with first aid treatment of envenomation injuries BEFORE they occur.

We will discuss other types of envenomation injuries and their first aid treatment in another post.


kymber said...

Jane - this is your scariest post to date...thank the Lord that we have no venomous snakes here in cape breton! but thank you for this information...this could save many lives. your work here and your research, as always, is top notch. and even though i may not comment often, due to not having anything to add, i appreciate very much all that you do here.

your friend,

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you Kymber, I am not a big fan of snakes. When we have a snake here which needs to be moved away from people, I call one of my sons who has made a very useful snake hook. We relocate the non-venomous ones, and we do kill the venomous varieties. For years we never saw anything but black racers here, but last year, we saw many copperheads. How much water we do, and then don't have in the environment in a given year must determine the number of snakes which will successfully hatch the following year.

jambaloney said...

ohhh i LOOOOVE snakes - i used to have them as pets when i was a kid. even then i knew that there were venomous snakes only in a few rare places in canada.

other than that, they keep the mice down if you garden. black racers are really good mousers.

that being said, if i lived anywhere where there were copperheads, i would buy a kit like this yesterday, the sooner you get it out of the bloodstream, the better - great post|!

JaneofVirginia said...

Jam, Good to have you back from your travels. I have never been a particular snake fan, although I do accept that as part of the natural world, most of them are clear contributors. One of the reasons we have so few mice here on the farm is that the black snakes are very good about keeping the mouse population down. Even they can be scary though. They can grow quite large and they can move very quickly. One summer day, I was opening one of the gate while driving the car, and a muscular black snake headed toward me. The next thing I know, someone screamed and the next time I knew what was going on, I was standing on the top of my car and I did not remember getting up there !
In the last couple of years something must be out of balance here because we have a lot of copperheads. Normally larger black snakes will eat those too.

Sherri Bagley said...

This is such a wonderful useful resource that you are providing and you give it absent free of charge. I love seeing web sites that understand the value of providing a quality useful resource for free. It's the old what goes around comes around program.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks for your kind words. This blog is dedicated to my youngest son Daniel who passed suddenly of a heart rhythm disturbance.

This is the post in which I discuss Daniel and the need for AEDs

Most of what we do here is absolutely free of charge, but we do have a book coming, called Rational Preparedness. The publisher is allowing me to set the price of both the hardcover and softcover versions so such a book would be very affordable, yet would cover expenses.

sai krupa said...

The information on the terms which need to follow for poisonous bites are really innovative and helpful for the affected persons have this in a generic way, Thanks for the share...

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you Sai, Regarding the link which you have placed in blue on your comment, entitled "poisonous bites". It refers to the use of paracetamol. Your article must have been written for those in England or Europe. There is no "paracetamol" in the US. We call it acetaminophen generically, and the name brand is Tylenol. Generally US physicians would prefer that the patient be transported for treatment rather than medicated with acetaminophen, as this may interfere with future meds which may be given for pain,on arrival, and also because hydration and liver function should be assessed first. Thanks for your comment !