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Snake bites: first aid

What to do after being bitten by a poisonous snake


Danger varies depending on the type of snake

Not all snakes are venomous, nor are all snake venoms fatal to men. The snakes which are most often responsible for venomous bites to humans include vipers and elapids (such as cobras and coral snakes). Snake venoms contain a variety of different toxins which serve to immobilize, capture and sometimes kill the prey.

As a general rule, the venom of elapids exerts a rapid neurotoxic action, which causes the prey to become paralyzed and its breathing to stop, while the venom of vipers has a more prolonged effect and primarily affects blood coagulation (anticoagulant effect).

The severity of symptoms of poisonous snake bites greatly vary depending on the amount of venom injected, as well as on the body site affected. The most common early symptom is the appearance of a swollen, red, intensely painful area with two puncture marks at the site of the snake bite. Further symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, sweating, difficulty breathing, muscle trembling, convulsions, paralysis, fainting, shock and sometimes death.  

Importance of prompt first aid measures and recommendations*

Regardless of the symptoms, correct and prompt first aid measures are essential to prevent the spread of venom throughout the body. After being bitten by a poisonous snake, a person should remain calm, restrict movement and, when possible, position himself so that the bite wound is kept at or below the level of his heart. He should take off any jewelry or constricting clothing near the wound before swelling starts, and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

It is important not to:

1) flush the wound with water;

2) apply ice to the snakebite;

3) use a tourniquet or try to stop blood flow from the wound;

4) cut the wound and try to remove the snake venom;

5) drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.

 It is also important to try to remember the color and shape of the poisonous snake, which can help the medical staff identify it and hence choose the most appropriate emergency treatment.

If the snake is dead, it may be useful to bring it to the hospital for identification. However, it is important to be cautious when handling a dead snake, since even dead snakes can bite by reflex for up to an hour.

Snake bites always require emergency medical care. Therefore, whenever possible, calling for immediate medical help is paramount. Emergency medical care will be directed at removing the venom as soon as possible, administering the antivenom when necessary, as well as relieving symptoms and preventing shock and wound infection. 


An appropriate international health insurance plan can cover the cost of the medical treatment of snake bites.

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*Always seek professional medical advise from a qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.