SI Vault
Edited by Robert W. Creamer
July 19, 1976
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July 19, 1976


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Old handbooks on camping always warned about snakebite and usually gave an illustrated explanation of how to cope with it. Prominent in recommended first-aid procedures were Xs slashed across the fang punctures in order to open the wound. The next step was to suck out the venom, either by mouth or by using small suction cups that the prudent camper carried in his snakebite kit.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who does a sports-medicine column for The Washington Post, wrote recently that such treatment is ridiculous, that studies show almost no venom is removed from a snakebite wound by the slash-and-suck method. Instead, Mirkin referred us to Dr. Tom Glass of San Antonio, who says "constrictant bands" should be placed above and below the wound and the bitten area covered with ice enclosed in a plastic bag. The victim should be taken to a hospital as quickly as possible. The offending snake, if it can be captured or killed, should be brought along, too; it may turn out to be nonpoisonous, which makes things easier all around.

Dr. Robert E. Arnold, who has written a book about treating bites and stings of venomous creatures, takes issue with Mirkin and Glass. He calls "constrictant bands" tourniquets and says, "Tourniquets should not be used in the initial treatment.... They are dangerous." He is against first-aid use of ice, warning that "ice treatment...should not be done by lay people. Damage to the limb may be made worse and amputation may be necessary." And he adds, "Do not waste time hunting for the snake. Few physicians are able to identify most snakes."

Considering the difference of opinion as to what the proper treatment is, the best advice seems to be: don't get bitten.

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