Wilderness Medicine: Snake Bites (Rattlesnake envenomations)

Today we’re talking with Tim Erickson
we’re here at the Santa Fe National Conference on wilderness and travel
medicine tim is a professor of emergency medicine and toxicology at the
University of Illinois and a specialist on snake bites so we have a few
questions for Timothy first of all thanks for coming out to mid wild it’s
great to be here beautiful weather and can’t beat the setting is this a common
scenario where people are bitten just hikers out in the wilderness and
suddenly a snake jumps out of a tree and bites them it’s not as common as people
would like to think but certainly in the setting here in the southwest New Mexico
Arizona Utah you are gonna get snake bites pit vipers predominantly
rattlesnakes Mojave the Western Diamondbacks so if you’re rummaging
around you’re hiking you’re going into brush off trail yeah you’re susceptible
to snakes now they’re not gonna stalk you they’re not gonna come flying out of
trees they’re not like anacondas that are gonna devour you but they are going
to strike if disturbed so if you step on them reach over a log they may strike
they’d rather leave you alone they’re pokeo therms cold-blooded they’d rather
just sit still absorb the heat and not waste their venom on humans they’d much
rather have rodents rabbits etc the people we are treating really are those
that are messing with snakes they’re taking chances
they have pet rattlesnakes they’re a little intoxicated and usually they’re
males so they got testicles and yes sometimes testicles are bitten but these
are the type of patients we get the ones that are messing pushing-the-limit not
the ones that are hiking out on a trail if you’re just respecting it staying on
trail certainly if you’re gonna go off into the bush create blaze your own
Trail then you’re asking for it because you may inadvertently step on one and
then it’s gonna defend itself when you’re hiking along what are you
thinking about in terms of prevention well first I’m on another planet and I’m
never thinking much but prevention wise stay on the trail make a little noise
give the snakes a chance to crawl away and they will if you see one directly on
the trail respect it go around it usually you’re gonna be fine
so know that they’re there respect their habitat they don’t want to encounter you
they don’t want to mess with you and usually you’ll just be fine now there’s
certain snakes internationally that are a little more pugnacious and will go
after you the mambas the Cobras in your experience how often do you see snake
bites that result in no end of animation at all it’s actually quite often if it’s
a non venomous snake like a garter snake I’m a snake okay if it’s a venomous
snake about a third even 40% will be a dry bite again snakes don’t want to
waste venom on humans they can’t devour a human they’ll strike realize it’s not
a small rat rodent and will draw back so you’ll get envenomated you’ll see
puncture wounds but there won’t be the poison injected into the e victim so
you’ll get a dry bite you’ll feel pain but you won’t see the manifestations of
the bite swelling of the arm leg blistering you may be hysterical because
you think you’re gonna die but the vast majority won’t die and quite a large
amount again a third it’s a dry bite in a lot of first-aid books and even
wilderness medicine books there’s a suggestion that if somebody’s bitten by
a presumed venomous snake that they should somehow bring that snake with
them to the emergency room so that it can be identified how do you feel about
that not necessary if you’re in a habitat a natural setting you are going
to know what type snakes are indigenous to the area and they’re gonna be treated
the same so to send the victim back into the bush or you yourself trying to save
the day to wrestle the big anaconda or the the venomous Mojave rattler makes no
sense you’re gonna get harmed you’re gonna harm the staff trying to care for
the patient let it be let it retreat you’re gonna treat it the same same
anti-venom covers all the snakes that are indigenous to the area the only
exception is again someone’s messing with the snakes
and it’s an exotic international snake that’s a different story you may want to
identify it otherwise off the trail in the wilderness leave it be we’re gonna
treat it the same sometimes people presume that when they’re hiking and if
they’re careful and observant that they’ll hear a rattlesnake rattle before
it bites would you agree with that no classically it’s not gonna rattle until
you’re almost on top of it it will retreat
it’s not gonna be rattling left and right warning you it’s usually once
they’re intimidated they’re defending themselves you’re in their territory so
just because you don’t hear a rattle doesn’t mean they’re not snakes around
so you have to be cautious don’t use that as a barometer whether they’re
snakes whether it’s safe to go off trail we’ve
been talking a lot about local snake correct yeah what about people that are
doing adventure travel they’re traveling traveling internationally is there
anything that they should keep in mind we’re used to seeing pit vipers
rattlesnakes blood Hammadi toxic snakes when they go internationally they’re
gonna see more nerve neurotoxic snakes like cobras and crates and they may look
different so you may say hey I know what a rattlesnake looks like I know the
shape of its head Diamondback those elliptical eyes snakes internationally
may be round-eyed they may be small they may have no rattles they could be more
venomous more dangerous than our snakes that are indigenous to the US the best
thing to do unless you know what you’re doing
stay away from them trust your local guides even internationally please stay
on the trail they’re there for a reason don’t mess with Mother Nature don’t mess
with the snakes leave them be and we can all get along and it’ll be a beautiful
planet Howard so did snakes on a plane
suck actually I liked it it got bad reviews have got panned by the critics
but I love samuel l.jackson and i think the original title for the movie was
supposed to be like vipers in the stratosphere but Samuel Jackson said no
it’s about snakes on a plane and we’re gonna call it snakes on a plane so yeah
it did suck but I’ve seen it seven times because I like snakes


  1. How much time after bite can I say it's dry-bite? Maybe can I touch the blooding bite with my finger (or maybe with lip (and speed up watching the symptoms), because that's sensitiver than every other body part)?
    How much time do I have before die if a snake bitten me and it is poisonous?

  2. Very good videos. My first Wilderness Medicine experience was 1991. Doing research on the snakes in the area I was going to, I spoke to our State Dept of Conservation expert. He told me about the car keys treatment! Now we can add cell phone, we had radio then. Experienced dealing with coral snakes and suspected snakebite. Really enjoy the videos and the subject matter.

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