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What's it like: To be treated for a snake bite

Oklahoma is home to about seven venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: March 10, 2013

Why get treated for a snake bite?

Oklahoma is home to about 46 species of snakes, including seven that are venomous to humans.

Five species of rattlesnakes, one type of water moccasins (Cottonmouths) and one species of copperhead can be found across Oklahoma. As the weather warms up, snakes are likely to be more active. Copperheads are the most common cause of snake bites in Oklahoma.

It's generally recommended that you seek emergency care after a snake bite. Snake bites, especially in children, can be deadly if not treated.

The severity of a snake bite will range, depending on the type of snake, the size of the snake and also the snake's intent. Sometimes when a snake bites, it's a warning, and it won't use much venom. The snake can decide how much venom it will inject.

Not everyone gets treated for a snake bite. For example, some people who are bitten by a copperhead aren't treated because the snake's venom isn't as potent as other snakes. However, it's generally best to go to the emergency room after suffering a snake bite.

What happens when you're treated?

On your way to the hospital, remove any jewelry. Do not apply a cold compress, ice or a tourniquet. Also, don't take any pain medication unless a doctor has instructed you to do so. You can also call the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

You might have seen a movie where a character tries to “suck the poison out” of a snake bite. This technique is no longer recommended. It's also not recommended that a person tries to extract the venom with a knife.

When you arrive at the emergency room, a nurse or other medical professional likely will ask you if you know what kind of snake bit you.

You should not bring the snake with you to the hospital. However, if you have a family member or friend nearby who can safely take a photo of the snake, that can sometimes be helpful in treating your bite. If you don't have a photo, it's helpful if you or someone with you can tell the hospital staff the color and size of the snake.

A medical team will assess the severity of your bite. They might run a test to determine whether the venom is affecting your blood's ability to clot. They will also try to determine whether the venom is spreading from your hand to the rest of your body.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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