Snake Bite: To Suck or Not to Suck...

Seems like the advice was written in stone to suck the poison out of someone’s snakebite. This has always made me wonder how safe it is for the sucker (no pun intended) AND now I hear this was NEVER sound advice! Yikes! :eek:

So, SDOpers on the trail, I’ll bite…what IS the Straight Dope on this? :confused:

Don’t have the cite at hand, but recently I, too, read from a very serious source about outdoor living that you should never suck a snake bite … unless you happened to carry one of those suck-kits for that purpose (they come with different-shaped and -sized pieces to cover the wound and create a tiny vacuum.

The reasons given against sucking with your mouth sounded sensible:

if you have any possible lesions in your mouth, no matter how tiny, you now got venom into your own system, close to your brain and heart. Not good.

Even if you don’t catch the venom yourself, you are still likely to introduce the bacteria (anaerobic, some of them) from your own mouth into the open wound of the victim. Again, not good.

In addition, because a snake’s fangs are curved, you are usually not even getting to where the venom really is.

Generally, keeping the victim calm (to slow heartbeat), the bitten part lower than the heart, putting a light compress on the limb (without constricting blood flow too much - you want to steer clear of gangrene, just slow down a bit) and getting help quickly is good enough for most cases, esp. in Western countries where the really poisonous snakes are not around (India and Australia being the exception there).

In addition avoiding being bitten by not bothering snakes in the first place is even better (75% of snake bites occur in hands because people poke around in holes where snakes want to be left alone). That also means that the first bite has a high likelihood of being intended to scare you away - the snake is smart enough to save its venom for food, and people are too big to eat. So you won’t get the full dosis unless you act really stupid.

That, and make sure to keep the victim away from alcohol. I’ve heard that part of the reason rattlesnakes got a reputation for being so deadly was the traditional “cure” of a bunch of whiskey: Alcohol actually makes the effects of snakebite worse.

Wasn’t that invented during the Prohibition, or is that only a urban legend - that people would go to the pharmacy to get alcohol as “treatment” for a snake bite, with a long waiting list for the only snake around?

The sad thing about rattlesnakes is how they’re the most “friendly” to humans and get punished for that, by stupid humans “breeding” silent types.

That is, rattlesnakes are “kind” enough to give a warning with their rattle before they bite, so if you stumble on them inadvertently, you can go your own way and both you and the snake stay away from each other and happy.

But because dumb humans have reasoned “rattlesnakes = bad => lets kill them all” all those rattlers who gave warning were killed, leaving mostly those who don’t rattle, just strike. (The other problem is building homes close to where rattlesnakes live in the first place, and then having to “exterminate” them so they don’t eat your Chihuahua dogs or bite your children).

I had it very strongly emphasized to me in Boy Scout first aid training 30-some years ago that, Hollywood notwithstanding, you should never suck on a snakebite, for all the good reasons constanze gave.

Don’t do it. No benefit, possible harm.

Darn it…

I had persuaded Angelina Jolie to help me with a painful snake bite in a very delicate area until she read this thread.

Maybe she can massage the venom out with her hand?
:smiley: :smiley:


Besides, it is extremely rare to die from a snakebite. Here in the southwest, we have a number of rattlesnake species, and although they are all venomous, their bites are rarely fatal. If you are bitten, you should get yourself to a hospital as soon as possible, having elevated the bite area as best you can and not fucked with it (sucking, scoring, etc). Bring the snake, too, if at all possible- the decision of whether or not to give antivenin can depend on the variety of rattlesnake that bit you, and the doc doesn’t want to take your word for it- “a rattler, dude!” isn’t really an accurate description :). IIRC, the Mohave is the most dangerous bite, as it’s venom is not only hemotoxic but also neurotoxic.

It hasn’t been recommended by any reputable first aid organization in decades.

The doctor says you’re gonna die.*

*punchline to an old joke.

Ok, now I’m confused…

I am not a/your doctor but I previously spent several years working with venomous species of reptiles.

NEVER attempt to suck venom from a bite wound, it is ineffective, dangerous, and dirty.

Best practice is as follows:

In urban environment, captive animal situation, or otherwise with immediate access to roads: If alone, is efficiently as possible while not panicking and running about, call 911 and report the bite. Do your best to ID the animal, but in the USA, if it is a rattlesnake simply say so, the treatment is the same for all species. (CROFAB antivenin) If the animal is an exotic, or you do not know what it is, do your best to get a good description. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO KILL THE ANIMAL AND ENDANGER YOURSELF FURTHER. While waiting for emergency services improvise a tourniquet ABOVE the bite site and apply moderate pressure. Keep as still and calm as possible under the circumstances and move to an outside, shaded area to wait for the EMT. Time is your enemy. Do not make the EMT’s waste it by trying to find you.

In a rural / isolated/ or state park situation: Assuming your phone has service immediately dial emergency services and report the bite, and your rough location. DO NOT HANG UP until they are satisfied they know your precise location. If you are way out in the back country, assume a life flight will be needed and do not hesitate to ask for a helicopter to be dispatched to your area. Apply a tourniquet as above and wait calmly.

If you do not have a phone or service, apply a tourniquet and as efficiently as possible without running, get to the nearest human help possible. Drive only when necessary.

  • In the USA, other than the various rattlesnake species, you are only likely to encounter the cottonmouth (water moccasin), copperhead, and coral snake. They are our only other venomous species. Bites from the first two are extremely painful but rarely deadly when treated. If you see a colorful banded snake and suspect it is a coral snake simply leave it alone. They are rear fanged and must chew their prey to inject venom. You will never be bitten by one on accident.

Bites from exotic species have different procedures in place and this should not be construed as medical advice. I am not a doctor.

Additional information and pictures of snakes can be found HERE at the CDC’s website.

Note they recommend to NOT apply a tourniquet. This is because most people have little experience doing so and are likely to injure themselves by overdoing it. Generally speaking, it is a good practice to apply one. However, if you are doubtful in your ability to judge how tight is TOO tight, then leave it off. Also bites should always be kept below the level of the heart. DO NOT ELEVATE. The goal is to keep the effects of the venom as isolated as possible from the central systems of the body.

From wiki: “Like all elapid snakes, coral snakes use a pair of small fangs fixed in the front of their top jaw to deliver their venom. They feed on smaller snakes, lizards, frogs, and nestling birds and rodents etc. The venom takes time to fully take effect.”

Not challenging you so much as asking. I’m not a snake expert.

It has always been my understanding that they are a rear fanged elapid (the only new world cobra actually) that has grooved, fixed fangs. I’m not aware of literature that indicates otherwise. I’ll do some research though.
EDIT: Well I’ll be buggered. It turns out the primary fangs are in the front. People had thought they were located in the rear like venomous colubrids for years. Huh. At any rate, they are extremely small and you’d need to really try to get bitten.

Thanks for the response. I never knew that some snakes have rear fangs at all, so I’m off to find pictures.

The Boomslang is probably the most classic rear-fanged snake and you can see a picture of the fangs here. Elapids like the coral snakes all have fixed front fangs.

Documentary on the subject

What I remember, from learning about snakes and/or first aid in my younger days, is that what you could apply is, properly speaking, not a tourniquet but a constriction band. A tourniquet, per se, is supposed to be as tight as possible: tight enough to pretty much cut off blood flow altogether, which is what you want if you’ve already lost a limb and want to keep from bleeding to death, but not if you’re trying to keep all your arms and legs. I seem to recall something about a snakebite constriction band being loose enough that you can slip two fingers underneath it, but that’s just going from memory.

If I have been bitten by a venomous snake, then yes, certainly, I would enjoy having you suck me. Might as well die, happy, right?

Oh wait, maybe I misunderstood the question…