First Aid for Pit Viper Snake Bites

These snakes, the rattlesnake, cottonmouth and copperhead are known as the pit vipers and are found in North America. The symptoms of a bite from one of the pit viper snakes usually develop within minutes of the bite if venom has been injected. Venom is not always injected after a bite and bites from younger snakes are often more deadly than those from older snakes. It is important to note that a snake will not empty all its venom after biting.

 

What do Pit Vipers look like:

Rattlesnake:

  • Rattle at the end of the tail; the younger the snake the smaller the rattle
  • Diamond-shaped markings down the back
  • Pitlike depressions behind the nostrils
  • Triangular head with slit-shaped pupils and fangs
  • Single row of scales on the underbelly

Copperhead:

  • Hour-glass markings down the back
  • Pitlike depressions behind the nostrils
  • Triangular head with slit-shaped pupils and fangs
  • Single row of scales on the underbelly

Cottonmouth:

  • Distinctive white coloring in the mouth
  • Pitlike depressions behind the nostrils
  • Triangular head with slit-shaped pupils and fangs
  • Single row of scales on the underbelly

 

What are the symptoms of Pit Viper bites?

  • Severe, immediate pain with rapid swelling
  • Bruising
  • Trouble breathing
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Metallic, rubbery or minty taste in mouth
  • Numbness
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes
  • Signs of shock

 

What is First Aid for a Pit Viper Bite?

  • Call emergency services immediately if you have been bitten by one of these snakes.
  • Remain calm.
  • Gently wash the bite area with soap and water
  • Apply a cold compress to the bite but do NOT pack in ice.
  • Do NOT apply a tourniquet.
  • Do NOT try to bleed the wound by cutting above the bite with a knife.
  • Do NOT try to suck out the venom.
  • Do NOT use or drink alcohol.
  • Do NOT attempt to break down the venom using electrical shocks such as a taser.
  • If you can safely recover the snake, remove and bury the head and bring the body back with you for identification. REMEMBER!: A snake head will continue biting up to an hour after being removed from the body. Bury it, do not let it near your body and do not leave it out where it can bite someone else.
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