Snake Bites on the Rise

June 10, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Kan.— With the wettest spring in years everyone is seeking dryer ground, including snakes. So far this season, 17 people in the greater KC metro area have been bitten. Last year, Poison Control responded to 73 bites.

To help treat snakebite properly, The University of Kansas Hospital has established a Snake Bite Center, which means that doctors are well trained in bites and have plenty of antivenom on hand for treatment.

"In Kansas and Missouri we have a lot of pit vipers, which cause localized damage like tissue destruction, pain and swelling," Dr. Stephen Thornton, MD, Emergency Medicine at The University of Kansas Hospital. "While these might not cause you to stop breathing like a cobra, bites can still cause problems, especially if they lead to an allergic reaction.

If you've been bitten, Dr. Thornton suggests immobilizing the affected area with a sling. Some things you shouldn't do include:

  • Using a tourniquet
  • Making an incision between the fang punctures
  • Sucking the venom out
  • Using electricity on the wound
  • Applying heat or ice to the wound

"Most of the ways snake bites are made worse are by people trying to do things to treat the injury before arriving at the hospital. None of which has been proven to work. They're trying to be helpful, but in the end it just makes things worse," Dr. Thornton said.

Snakebite facts

  • 20-30% of poisonous snakebites are dry, with no injected venom.
  • 80% of snakebites are on extremities – hands, feet and legs.
  • 99% of pit viper bites with venom result in local pain and swelling.
  • Rarely, excess bleeding and neuromuscular issues may occur.
  • Snakebite usually results from provoking the snake. Alcohol is frequently involved.

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