Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beware of snake heads — even after cutting them off

If you don’t like snakes, read no further.
If you have a morbid curiosity about snakes, keep reading.

According to an Associated Press story, about 50 miles southeast of Yakima, Wash. came Danny Anderson and his son Benjamin came across a 5-foot long rattler snake on Monday on his property while he was feeding his horses.

They “pinned the snake with an irrigation pipe and cut off its head with a shovel.” They continued to strike the head, which rolled under the pickup truck.

Then Danny Anderson told AP, “When I reached down to pick up the head, it raised around and did a backflip almost and bit my finger. I had the shake my hand real hard to get it to let loose.”

By the time he got to a nearby hospital 10 minutes later, the venom was already affecting his body and his tongue was swollen. He was taken to another hospital, got more shots, and was there until Wednesday.

According to information posted by the American International Rattlesnake Museum (, about 8,000 Americans each year are bitten by rattlesnakes and an average of 1 percent, or 12 people per year, die from the venom. The museum stressed “more people die each year from bee stings, lightning strikes or almost any other reason.”

The museum’s website also offered advice on what to do to avoid snakebites:

Wear appropriate footwear such as boots, chaps or high-top hiking shoes.
Step up onto logs or rocks rather than over them.
Don’t place your hands on unseen ledges or into animal holes.
Don’t turn rocks or boards over with bare hands. Use a tool.
Don’t try to kill, catch or molest a venomous snake. Leave them alone.
Don’t hike by yourself.
Learn what dangerous snakes in your area look like. Get a book.
Watch where you are walking.

The museum also offered advice what to do in case you receive a snakebite:

Remain calm and inactive.
Don’t make incisions over the snakebite.
Don’t constrict the flow of blood.
Don’t immerse a limb in ice water.
Use suction device or mouth to extract some venom. If performed within the first couple of minutes, this may help reduce the effects of the bite. This procedure should not be performed by someone with ulcers of the mouth or stomach.
Have another individual drive to medical care for treatment.
If you spend a lot of time in “snake country”, locate a physician with snakebite treatment before hand, just in case.

TREATMENT — Steps taken at a hospital or other medical facility to counter the effects of snake venom is called treatment. The most common treatment includes the injection of an antivenin (or antivenom). Injecting small amounts of venom into a horse makes antivenin. The horse’s immune system provides a defense against the venom. The horse’s blood serum is then used in antivenin and given to human bite victims to counteract the effects of the bite. Only qualified medical personnel should administer antivenin. There are often side effects to be considered.
Treatment may also involve care given to relieve swelling, tetanus or local tissue damage. North American pit viper venom (rattlesnake, water moccasin, copperhead) is primarily hemotoxic, acting to destroy blood and muscle tissue.

Fortunately, even though Anderson had broken the rule about “don’t try to kill a rattlensnake”, he did do some of the right steps to ensure he lived to tell about it.

Hopefully other people will learn from his painful lesson and take steps to prevent snake harm to themselves.

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