Published on: Jul. 3, 2012

and species of snake, what factors make a snake bite more or less dangerous?

A: One of the most important factors is personal sensitivity. Some people are more allergic to snake venom, just as some people have a more serious reaction to insect stings. Snake bites are more serious for very young and very old people and those with compromised health. The location of the bite is important, too. Least serious are those to the hands and feet, which is good because that’s where most people are bitten. Not seeking medical attention is a serious mistake. Even if a bite does not deliver enough venom to kill immediately, it can lead to life-threatening infection.

Q: Who is most likely to be bitten?

A: Anyone can be bitten when they accidentally step on a venomous snake. However, most bites occur when people try to catch or kill snakes. The typical snakebite victim is a male between the ages of 17 and 27. Alcohol consumption usually is a contributing factor.

Q: What first aid is recommended for snakebite?

A: If you have one of the old-style snakebite kits with razor blades and suction cups, throw it away. This form of treatment has been found to be ineffective, and cutting on the hands and feet can cause serious damage to tendons. If bitten, take the following actions:

  • Move out of striking range of the snake.
  • Remain calm and minimize physical activity. Excitement and exercise increase blood flow and spread the venom, if any is present. (Remember, there’s a one-in-four chance you got a dry bite!)
  • DO NOT try to capture or kill the snake. Medical treatment will be the same regardless of the type of snake that bit you.
  • Remove rings, watches and restrictive clothing in case swelling occurs, and rinse off any venom on the skin around the bite.
  • Immobilize the bitten area to minimize venom spread.
  • Take the victim to the NEAREST doctor or medical facility. Call for emergency assistance if this will speed up transportation.
  • Call ahead to the medical facility so they can have the necessary drugs on hand.

Equally important is what not to do. DO NOT:

  • Apply ice to the bite.
  • Cut the wound or attempt to remove venom.
  • Apply a tourniquet or constricting bands.
  • Use an electrical device to shock the bite.
  • Drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.

Q: How can I avoid snakebite?

A: Here are some ways to reduce the already tiny risk of snakebite.

  • Learn to identify venomous snakes, and know their habits.
  • Never handle venomous snakes.
  • When possible, delay work until snakes’ inactive period from November through March.
  • Wear boots and heavy trousers when working or hiking in areas where snakes live.
  • Wear a heavy, long-sleeved shirt and leather gloves when you must work with your hands around rock piles or other snake habitat.
  • Use a pole, rake, stick, etc. to probe snake-prone areas before starting work.
  • Work or hike with other people for mutual aid in case of emergency.


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On July 19th, 2012 at 9:19am david said:

snakes are earless reptiles.they are sensitive to when a snake passes by you,just stand still till it passes not walk and create vibrations.and i agree with dave for the use of touniquet or constricting band upstream of the bite, to slow down the blood going to the heart thus reducing the spread of vemon.

On July 16th, 2012 at 9:33am lowj said:

Thanks for the suggestion, Bunbun. We could send out a press release, but that wouldn't serve much purpose at this point, since the story - including information from MDC experts - already has received ample media attention. At this point, a press release might simply prolong attention to a danger that is, as you said, minimal, adding to the unnecessary anxiety. However, we have posted information on our website, so folks searching for information can find it. - Jim@mdc

On July 15th, 2012 at 6:37pm Divine Bunbun said:

Is there any way to take this information and make it a public service announcement? So many Missourians are needlessly concerned.

On July 9th, 2012 at 6:33pm Rick said:

I Know now How My Grandfather Survived A Copperhead Bite ( ie 1890's ) Iam Not Fond Of Snakes So I Do Not Go Looking For Them . And I Just As Soon Not See Any Of Them. I Thank You For The Info you Sent Me, I know Alot More Again Thanks Mo. Con.

On July 7th, 2012 at 1:07pm Greg said:

Anyone that spends time outdoors should be aware of the types of venomous snakes in their area and know how to identify them. I hope that people don't kill any snakes on site, as a previous commenter stated. The best course of action is to leave snakes alone, and keep your eyes open for them when you are in their habitat.

On July 6th, 2012 at 8:05am lowj said:

You will get no argument from me about infection from nonvenomous snakebites, Michael. I was just making the point that they aren't the same sort of threat as a cottonmouth or copperhead. BTW, as noted in my blog post, our herpetologist says timber rattlers have the most potent venom of any Missouri snake, followed by cottonmouths. Copperheads are at the bottom of the list.

On July 5th, 2012 at 7:20pm Michael said:

(1). I disagree with you on non-poison snake bites not dangerous! Many of the non-poisonous snakes have germs in their mouths, and can become infected, like the common water snakes, the black snakes that eat mice, rats, and eggs, ect. (2). Missouri snakes for the most part, are not fatal. The Cottonmouth, is probably the strongest venom, I would rather the copperhead over the cottonmouth bite. (3). The risk would be to a person with a heart problem, or weak system. Not that a strong, healthy person has nothing to worry about, but it is very unlikely to do more than be sick and some pain. I worked for the Conservation in my younger years, and I like snakes, but respect them. Michael

On July 5th, 2012 at 10:21am lowj said:

Unfortunately, news media that jumped on the "fatal snakebite" story but have been far less interested in reporting their error in assuming that the bite killed the victim. Regarding snake's secretive nature, a group of people standing around probably doesn't feel like much of a threat to a snake. About not using a tourniquet or constricting bands, this is simply the current medical advice. Cutting off blood flow to part of the body can cause serious damage and is unnecessary. As far as back-country snakebite is concerned, 1) Missouri has few places you can't get out of in an hour or two and 2) your time is better spent getting to medical help than engaging in ineffective or harmful first-aid. However, I am NOT a medical expert, so by all means go to expert sources to for medical advice. The "Extractor" mentioned in Sharon's comment is sold for use on insect stings and snake bites. The vacuum device doesn't seem to offer any different benefits than the old-style rubber cups, which medical experts say don't do any good. I am glad to see that the Extractor kit doesn't include a blade for cutting into the skin.  - Jim@mdc

On July 3rd, 2012 at 10:00pm Sharon P said:

You recommended not using the old style snake bite kits. What about a device called the Extractor, sold by Sawyer Products. I've used it many times for insect bites, but have never been bitten by a snake.

On July 3rd, 2012 at 5:45pm Anonymous said:

Thank you MDC . This story will cause many snakes to be killed on sight I am afraid though. I hope you can get the real facts out.

On July 3rd, 2012 at 4:21pm Dave said:

I would like to comment on afew things in this article. One of the things that I have noticed from personal experience is that copperheads are not secretive nor shy of humans. I have seen them come out around humans (within 10 feet of a group of talking humans) and they don't seem to mind. Now, I am wondering why you not put a constricting band "upstream" of the bite. I have heard the theroy behind that is it will slow down the blood going to the heart thus reducing the spread of vemon. But you only do that if you are afew hours away from medicial treatment. I also was wondering what to do if you are in the deep woods and get biten? Thanks for any and all info. Dave

On July 3rd, 2012 at 3:32pm lowj said:

News Flash! The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the cause of death of the man in question was heart attack. Snakebite was a contributing factor. To answer your question, "Anonymous," copperheads are found throughout most of Missouri. However, they are secretive and very shy of humans, so most of them are never seen. - Jim@mdc

On July 3rd, 2012 at 3:22pm Ken said:

Thanks for this information. I wish it was in every newspaper in Missouri. There are so many errors in peoples opinion of snakes.

On July 3rd, 2012 at 3:19pm Anonymous said:

Are these snakes commonly found in urban & suburban habits ?

On July 3rd, 2012 at 2:49pm lowj said:

To my knowledge, never. That was my point. Your chances of dying from a copperhead bite are next to none. The average copperhead simply doesn't have enough venom to kill a healthy adult human.

On July 3rd, 2012 at 2:26pm Anonymous said:

When was the last time 'falling space debri' killed someone? Thanks
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