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  • Leave snakes alone. Most bites occur when people get too close or try to touch or kill a snake. Snakes can strike faster and farther than you might think--about half their body length.
  • If you see a snake in the wild, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet. If you accidentally step too close to a snake, take at least two giant steps backwards to get out of the snake's reach.
  • Never touch a snake, even if you think it is dead. The fangs of a dead snake can still inject venom.
  • Don't reach or step into places outdoors that you can't see. Keep hands and feet out of areas you can't see. Don't pick up rocks or firewood unless you are out of a snake's striking distance. Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.
  • Wearing boots and long pants when hiking may help prevent snakebites. Stay out of tall grass
  • unless you wear thick leather boots, and remain on hiking paths as much as possible. Chaps or gaiters may further reduce the chance of a snakebite in tall grass.
Most snakes are harmless and the majority of snakebites are not fatal. Sometimes snakebites result in only minor injury. However, it is not possible to predict which bites will result in mild symptoms and which can more seriously harm or kill you. Therefore, all patients with snakebites should seek prompt medical attention at a hospital.

What to do if bitten:

  • Call 911 or go to the closest emergency department.
  • Stay calm and cool. Minimize activity if possible. However, if you are alone in the wilderness or far from access to medical care, you may have to hike out to the nearest phone or radio for help.
  • Don't do anything to the place you were bitten--you might make things worse.
  • If you are bitten on the arm or hand, take off your rings, bracelets or watch in case your arm swells. Also remove any tight-fitting clothes around the bite area.
  • Avoid further injury by staying away from the snake. There is no value in trying to capture or identify the snake.
  • Mark the leading edge of swelling (and record the time) to gauge the progression of swelling.
  • Make sure you carry plenty of water in your day pack.
In addition, there are several things you should not do:
  • Do not try to suck the venom out of the bite with your mouth or suction device.
  • Do not cut into or incise bite marks with a blade.
  • Do not apply a narrow, constrictive tourniquet such as a belt, necktie or cord.
  • Do not waste time or take any risks trying to kill, bag or bring in offending snake.
  • Digital or Polaroid images may be helpful if they can be obtained quickly and safely.
  • Do not drink any alcohol or take aspirin or ibuprofen after snakebite.
  • Do not place ice directly on the wound.
  • Do not apply either hot or cold packs.
  • Do not use a stun gun or electric shock of any kind.
  • Do not engage in strenuous physical activity if possible.
  • Antivenom is not recommended for field use.
Source: On the Trail: Snakes and Safety at HikingMichigan.com

On the Trail: Snakes and Safety at HikingMichigan.com

last updated 15 July 2006