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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Snake Bite

Snake bites are always dreaded for they may be fatal if the reptile is poisonous and no immediate action is initiated to take out the venom from the victim's body. In fact, a snake bite takes place when any snake sinks its teeth into the skin and it may result in a medical emergency if the reptile is venomous. To be precise, children, whose body size is small, are generally at an elevated risk for death or acute complications owing to snake bites.

Although neither all snakes are poisonous, nor their bites deadly, there are several varieties of snake whose bites may result in immediate casualties. However, notwithstanding the poison injected into a victim's body through a snake bite, it is possible to save the victims' lives by using the appropriate anti-venom. When a snake sinks its teeth into the skin of any individual, the most important thing is to take him/ her to an emergency room without wasting any time. Snake bites usually do not have any critical effect if the victims receive timely treatment.

As snakes are able to survive in diverse environments, including land, sea, lakes, deserts, grasslands and forests, many consider them to be amazing or extraordinary animals. Although snakes are mostly considered to be menacing, the fact remains that these animals are always more terrified of humans than the humans are scared of them. Barring a few exceptions like the black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis) and the king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), most snakes do not belligerently attack humans unless they are provoked by the latter.

It is interesting to note that although snakes do not have any limb, all varieties of snakes are essentially carnivorous. They prey upon other animals, such as insects, other reptiles, birds, relatively small mammals and occasionally even other snakes to feed themselves. There are approximately 3000 species of snakes in the world and among these just around 400 species actually inject poison or venom when they sink their teeth into the skin of other animals. There are a number of snake species that seize their victims by constricting their bodies. By constricting their bodies, these species of snakes actually suffocate their kill to death. Usually, they tighten around the chest of the prey making it impossible for them to breathe or often causing death by cardiac arrest. However, no snake kills its prey by crushing it. Conversely, there are some species of snakes that catch their prey with the help of their teeth and subsequently swallow them as a whole. This is common when they attack smaller animals like birds or insects.

All snakes are cold-blooded animals denoting that they do not have the aptitude to raise their body temperature to survive in cold environs. Usually, snakes have been found to be very vigorous at temperatures ranging between 25°C and 32°C or between 77°F and 90°F.

The manner in which a snake actually bites
Poisonous snakes that inject venom when they sink their teeth in the skin of other animals have transformed salivary glands. In fact, venom itself is transformed or modified type of saliva and in all probability changed during the chemical digestive process. In addition, the different amounts or extent of noxiousness of the venom also help snakes to kill their preys. When a snake sinks its teeth into the skin of its prey and injects venom, what is termed as envenomation, the venom or poison moves from the venom gland (salivary gland) to the fangs of the reptile passing though a duct and finally into the body of the prey. To be precise, the venom of a snake is actually an amalgamation of several materials, usually proteins, having different consequences. Speaking in simple terms, these proteins contained in the venom of a snake can be categorized into four different groups - cytotoxins, hemotoxins, neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. Below is a brief description of the effects caused by each type of protein present in a snake's venom:
  • Cytotoxins: This type of protein present in snake venom damages the tissues at the site of the snake bite.
  • Hemotoxins: This particular substance in snake venom results in internal hemorrhage.
  • Neurotoxins: This poisonous substance damages the nervous system.
  • Cardiotoxins: This particular protein present in snake venom affects the heart straightaway.
Whom the snakes bite
According to a rough estimate more than five million snake bites take place every year across the globe. Of these, as many as 125,000 victims succumb to snakes bites. In fact, snake bites are frequent in regions having tropical climatic conditions as well as areas that are basically agricultural. In fact, a vast population coexists with innumerable snakes in the above mentioned regions. In a developed country like the US, around 5 to 10 people succumb to snake bites each year. In significant instances in the US, many people are actually bitten by snakes while handling them or even for harassing the reptiles. In effect, they provoke the snakes to bite them! It is estimated that as many as 45,000 people in the US are bitten by snakes every year and of these 8000 are victims of snake bites by venomous animals.
The snakes that bite
Basically, two main families of snakes are responsible for majority of the venomous snake bites and, hence, are perilous for the humans.

Snakes belonging to the elapid family (snakes having permanently erect fangs in the front of the upper jaw) include the Asian and African cobras, the Asian kraits, the African mambas, the Australian elapids comprising tiger snakes, costal taipan, death adders and king brown snake as well as the American coral snakes. While all these species of snakes are extremely venomous, even the lethal sea snakes are directly related to the Australian elapids.

Snakes belonging to the viper family (venomous Old World snakes having erectile, venom-conducting fangs) include moccasins, rattlesnakes, including the diamondback rattlesnake and timber rattlesnake found in the West; the Asian and African saw-scaled vipers, the American lance-headed vipers, African Gaboon viper, the Asian Russell's viper and the puff adder.

Majority of the species of snakes belonging to the Colubrids - the most extensively dispersed and diverse family of snakes - do not possess venom that may be harmful for the humans. Nevertheless, a number of snake species belonging to this family, such as the twig snakes, brown tree snake and the garter snake of Japan do have venoms and may prove to be treacherous for humans. On the other hand, some other species of snakes belonging to the Colubrids family, such as the king snakes, American garter snakes, rat snakes and racers do not possess any venom and, hence, are basically not dangerous as far as humans are concerned.

Precisely speaking, snake bites caused by any of the snakes mentioned below are venomous and may result in medical emergencies:

  • Cobra
  • Coral Snake
  • Copperhead
  • Cottonmouth (also known as water moccasin)
  • All species of rattlesnake
  • Different snake species found in zoos

As mentioned earlier, snakes are usually scared of humans and they will not bite unless they are provoked in some manner or the other. Snakes do bite when they are surprised or intimidated, but will generally keep away from people most of the time and bite when they find they are left with no other option to protect themselves.

Most people are of the view that snakes found in water or near water bodies are venomous. However, this conception is erroneous as majority of these snakes are not dangerous and in most cases bites by them do not result in critical conditions. However, never ever try to ignore a snake bite. If you don't know much about snakes or which species of snake has bit you, it is essential to seek emergency medical help in case of all snake bites. Always treat all snake bites seriously.

Supplements and herbs

Several herbs have been found to be effective in treating snake bites. However, herbal treatment for snake bites are basically aimed at fast recovery and should be initiated only after the initial emergency medical treatment has been done. In fact, it is advisable to start herbal treatment for snake bites only when the victim has recovered sufficiently to leave the hospital. This is truer for children who have been bitten by snakes. You should always remember that you need to seek emergency medical help if your child has been bitten by a snake. Don't waste time unnecessarily to find the snake or any other reason.

See age-appropriate dosages of herbal remedies

  • Herbs like Echinacea and goldenseal facilitate in treating as well as preventing infections - even those that may be caused due to a snake bite. These two herbs are known to possess antibiotic characteristics and aid in strengthening the immune system. If your child has been bitten by a snake and is just out of the hospital after the emergency medical treatment, you may give him/ her one dosage of a blended formula of these two herbs thrice daily for five subsequent days. Later, reduce the dosage to two every day for another five days. Here is a word of caution. Never give Echinacea doses to your child for over ten days at a stretch. In case you ignore this warning, you will find that the herbal treatment with Echinacea has been losing its usefulness after ten days.
  • Garlic is another herb that possesses potent antibiotic properties and is effective in detoxifying blood. When your child has recovered from the initial consequences of a snake bite, you may give him/ her one garlic tablet supplement daily for two weeks to help them to recuperate faster. Alternately, you may also give your child one clove of fresh garlic thrice daily for two weeks.

Aromatherapy

Commonly used essential oils for snake bite:

Symptoms

The symptoms of snake bites may vary from being mild to acute. Usually snake bite symptoms include swelling and bruising of the area around the spot of the snake bite and a very rapid pulse rate. When infants and children become victims of snake bites they experience debility and shortness of breath. In addition, they may also complain of nausea and vomit. In case the venom of the snake is potent, the victim may also suffer from acute soreness as well as extreme swelling at the place of the snake bite. Other symptoms of snake bites in children may include dilation of the pupils, shock and seizures. In addition, they may experience uncontrolled shuddering or tremors and their speech may become slurred. A severe snake bite, when enough of venom is injected into the body of a child, may also result in paralysis and unconsciousness or fainting. Hence, it is advisable that in case your child becomes a victim of a snake bite, act instantly and seek medical help without wasting any time.

While the symptoms of snake bites are conditional on the species of snake, the amount of venom injected as well as the age of the victim, normally all such victims are likely to experience the following conditions after a snake bite:

  • Blood loss from the wound or bruise caused by snake bite
  • Burning sensation of the skin around the affected area
  • Cloudy or confusing vision
  • Seizures or spasm
  • Diarrhea or dysentery
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Too much perspiration
  • Unconsciousness
  • Marks of snakes fangs on the skin
  • Rise in body temperature or fever
  • Enhanced thirst or feeling thirsty despite intake of sufficient fluids
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Queasiness and vomiting
  • Fast pulse rate
  • Debility or general feeling of weakness
  • Lack of sensation (numbness) and tingling
  • Death of tissues in the affected area
  • Acute pain
  • Swelling at the place of the snake bite

First aid

It is essential for people residing in localities where snake bites are too common to keep themselves abreast regarding the first aid measures they need to undertaken when an individual is bitten by a snake - venomous or otherwise. In fact, not only they, it is important for everyone to have the basic knowledge regarding first aid treatment that need to be administered to people bitten by snakes. You never know when it may become handy. Below, find a list of first aid methods that ought to be provided to treat snake bite victims.

  • Ensure that the snake bite victim remains calm and composed. Uplift the victim's spirit saying that snake bites are curable and this can be done in an emergency room. Limit the movements of the victim while ensure that the venom does not flow to the heart. Tie a piece of cloth or a rope just above the affected area with a view to decrease the flow of blood from the region to the heart.
  • It is best if you have a pump suction device like the one manufactured by Sawyer - use it following the instructions of the manufacturer.
  • Get rid of all rings or other items that may cause constriction since the area around the snake bite will swell. You may as well make a loose bandage or support to facilitate the restriction of movement of the affected area.
  • Remember, the area of the snake bite will gradually swell and become discolored if the snake that bit the victim is venomous.
  • If possible, keep an eye on the vital signs of the victim, including pulse rate, pace of breathing, body temperature and blood pressure.
  • In case you observe any symptoms of shock in the snake bite victim, lay the person horizontally, lift his/ her feet approximately by a foot and also wrap the victim with a blanket.
  • Seek immediate medical help. It is important not to waste any moment after a person has been bitten by a snake.
  • If the snake is dead, bring its corpse carefully. However, never try to waste time or risk another snake bite by trying to look for the snake. If it is not easy to kill the snake, let it go free.
  • In case you manage to get the snake, be careful about the animal's head while carrying it. Remember, as a reflex action, a snake has the ability to bite once again an hour after the time of its death.

Things to be avoided

When a snake sinks its teeth into the skin of a person, it may result in an emergency causing the victim to behave panicky. Moreover, often people attending on the victim also initiate steps that may prove to be harmful for the patients. So, having discussed what you should do to help a snake bite victim, below, find a few points that you need to be careful to avoid. These are some of the 'don'ts' that will help the victim to recuperate faster.

  • Never apply a tourniquet or strap near the area where the snake has sunk its teeth.
  • Don't make the victim become over-exerted. Carry the victim to a safer place, if it is deemed necessary.
  • Avoid applying any type of cold compresses to the affected area.
  • Don't incise the area of the snake bite with a razor, knife or any other sharp object.
  • Never try to suck the snake venom out of the victim's body with your mouth.
  • Don't give anything to the snake bite victim to eat or drink.
  • Don't elevate the affected area above the level of the person's heart for it may increase the flow of venom to the heart.
  • Don't give the victim any medication, either painkillers or stimulants, without consulting a qualified doctor.

How to prevent a snake bite

While it is impossible to suggest infallible or foolproof measures to avoid being bitten by a snake, you may always adopt certain measures that will help you to prevent being a snake bite victim. Actually, there are two thing to do to prevent a snake bite - be watchful and prepared if you think you are venturing into any area where there may be snakes. Below, find a few tips that may help you to prevent a snake bite.

  • Always try and avoid going to places where you suspect snakes make have taken refuge. Especially, be careful not to visit places like logs in open spaces or below the rocks.
  • While walking, tap the place before you tread with a walking stick. This is especially important when you are entering a place where it is dark and you cannot see your feet. Tapping the ground or floor will provide the snakes with enough warning of your presence and to leave the place.
  • In case you are a frequent hiker, you ought to buy a snake bite kit that is available with stores that keep hiking supplies. It is important not to use any of the outdated snake bite kits available in the market - the ones that may include suction bulbs or razor blades.
  • Wear long pants and also boots, if possible, when hiking in areas where snakes are found.
  • Although majority of the snakes are not venomous, you need to be careful not to pick up or try to play with snakes. One should be adequately trained before they can do such things.
  • Never, ever provoke or incite a snake. In fact, most snake bites occur when people unwittingly provoke snakes.

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