SYMPTOMS: One or two tiny bite holes which cause intense pain;
frequently there is nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness.
CAUSES: There are two types of poisonous serpents in North America:
The pit viper (which includes rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cotton
mouths [also called water moccasins]) has a deep, heat-sensitive, pit on
each side of the head. Pit vipers lunge forward, bite, and immediately
pull back. Their venom contains a blood poison.
The coral snake does not jump and, when it catches hold of the flesh,
must hold on and chew awhile for the poison to sink in. Its venom is a
More on identifying coral snakes: They are found only in the
southernmost areas of the United States, as well as south of the border,
and have brightly colored rings. There is a non-poisonous snake which
looks similar, but the colored rings are arranged differently. Remember
it this way: "Red by black, friend of Jack; but black by yellow, kill a
The danger from snake bite occurs when the poison reaches the heart,
and, secondarily, the effect of that poison on the blood and nervous system.
The action of the venom is rapid, regardless of the type of poisonous
snake. There is rapid swelling and inflammation.
If treatment is not immediately given, the poison may cause death. If
not death, then, after the initial effects of pain and shock begin to
wear off, extensive tissue damage begins. There is suppuration,
gangrene, sloughing, and hemorrhage. If this happens, recovery time is
- The best single remedy you can keep on hand is a small hand-suction
extractor for immediately pulling the poison out of the wound. Continue
this for half an hour. (This suction is less useful for coral snake
venom, but use it on all snake bites anyway!) If there is no other way
to extract the poison, another person should suck it out, continually
spitting out the blood, for half an hour.
- The person doing the sucking should not have any sores in his mouth.
- Suction can also be done with a pop bottle heated and applied. As it
cools a vacuum is formed.
- Another alternative is to cut off the end of a plastic injection
syringe at the bottom of the large end, apply to the bitten area, and
pull back on the plunger.
- Have the patient lie down, keep him calm and warm, apply a tourniquet
above the limb where the wound is. This constricting band should be
tight enough to shut off the venous blood, but not so tight that it
stops the arterial circulation. Loosen the band 15 seconds every 10 minutes.
- The instruction formerly was to cut across between the two bite holes,
so you could suck out more blood and poison. The current theory is that
no cuts should be made, but only sucking. It might be the best to suck
and spit for a couple minutes; this will clean the surface as well. Then
cut across, so you can suck even better. But, when you are in the
crisis, do what seems best.
- Do not give liquor to the person, thinking that this will help him. It
- Specific antivenin serums are in stock for various species of snakes.
Learn to identify the various snakes in your locality. (Coral snakes are
primarily found only in the southeastern states.)
- Massive doses of vitamin C may save a life.
- Keep calm and work carefully. Excitement speeds up the blood flow to
- In most cases, the person does not die. But pray and get yourself
prepared for whatever may happen.
- After the suction process is over, take charcoal from the campfire,
mix it with water and drink it, as follows: a half glassful of water
with 1 teaspoon of charcoal, and drink another one every 15 minutes
until the danger is past.
- If able to do so, a couple hours later, take a steam bath or something
similar, to sweat out the poison.
- Throughout all this time, you should eat no food.
- If, after several hours, the bite area is still swollen and painful,
put kerosene on a cloth and apply it, keeping it wet for several hours.
This will help neutralize the poison. An alternative is to grind up raw
onions and apply to the area. Leave them there until an offensive odor,
not of onions, is noticed. Remove; bathe the area; and apply more raw,
crushed, onions until the pain is gone.