Spiders, wasps, fire ants -- these are just some of the more common types of bites that parents often worry about.
What about snake bites?
Although snake bites can be scary, it is fortunately rare for someone to die from a snake bite. Of the 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites that occur each year, only about 5 to 15 people die.
It is perhaps even rarer for children to get bitten and die from poisonous snakes. Of 39 deaths reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers from 1983 to 2008, only two were in children. This includes a 4-year-old who died following a rattlesnake bite in 1997 and a 2-year-old who died after being bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake in 2000.
Perhaps that is why snake bites are not usually very high on the list of things that parents worry about. Or maybe it is because many parents just don't routinely see many snakes around their home.
Even if snake bites aren't common and you don't think your kids are at risk, it is still be a good idea to learn to avoid and treat snake bites just in case one occurs. After all, you never know when you might encounter a snake that gets displaced from its typical habitat after a heavy rain or flood and ends up in or around your home.
Or your kids might encounter a snake while hiking, camping, or simply playing outside.
Do you know what kind of snakes normally live in your area? Do you know which snakes are poisonous?
Preventing Snake Bites
To prevent snake bites, teach your kids to avoid snakes, and be extra careful when playing or hiking in wooded areas, near water, or other wild areas.
Make sure your kids wear boots and long pants and watch where they step, since some poisonous snake bites occur when you accidentally step on or near one of these snakes.
Also avoid tall grass, and piles of leaves, rocks, and wood, where snakes might be hiding.
First Aid for Snake Bites
If your child is bitten by a snake, you can likely forget just about everything you have learned about treating a snake bite from TV and the movies. For example, you don't want to apply a tourniquet to the bite, put ice on the bite, or catch the snake, and you definitely don't want to cut the wound and suck out the venom.
So what should you do?
As in many other emergency situations, once you are safely away from the snake, you should seek immediate medical attention (don't wait for symptoms), usually by calling 911. If you remember, tell them the color and shape of the snake (take a picture if possible), which can help them to determine if it was indeed a poisonous snake (a rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth/water moccasin, or coral snake, etc.).
In addition, when treating a snake bite, it can help to:
- keep your child calm
- lay your child down and try to keep the area of the bite below the level of his heart, although if the area is getting swollen, you should likely keep it level with his heart (a neutral position) -- just don't raise it above the level of his heart, which would likely increase the rate at which the venom reaches the rest of his body
- consider removing any tight clothing or jewelry in case the area swells
- wash the bite wound with soap and water and then cover it with a clean, dry dressing
If you aren't sure if it was a poisonous snake and your child doesn't have any symptoms, you could also call poison control (1-800-222-1222) for further help. Calling poison control can be especially helpful if you plan to take your child to the hospital yourself, since they may be able to direct you to a hospital that has the appropriate antivenin in case it is needed, or they can try and make sure the hospital has it before you get there.
Keep in mind that even with a non-poisonous snake bite, your child might need a tetanus booster, so you might still call or see your pediatrician.
Auerbach. Wilderness Medicine, 6th ed.
CDC. Emergency Preparedness and Response. How to Prevent or Respond to a Snake Bite. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/snakebite.asp. Accessed January 2012.
CDC. Venomous Snakes. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/. Accessed January 2012.