Medical attention important after snakebite

March 5, 2013

RPMH raises awareness of the potential life-threatening dangers of snakebites during Rattlesnake Round-Up weekend in Sweetwater.

Each year, the World’s Largest Rattlesnake Round-Up attracts more than 20,000 visitors to Sweetwater. For the past 55 years, the event has been a means for locals to protect livestock by controlling the snake population as they begin to emerge from winter hibernation.
As participants and visitors participate in the Round-up, Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital (RPMH) seeks to raise awareness of how people should respond to snakebites during the weekend and throughout the year.
Many different types of snakes can be found in Nolan County and across the region; some with poisonous venom that can have debilitating or even deadly consequences for snakebite victims.
“Some snakes can be illusive, so bites can occur so fast that victims won’t know what hit them until after the fact,” says Dr. Robert Eaker, emergency department medical director at RPMH. “Knowing how to respond to a snakebite is important for those living in rural areas as it could make a difference between life and death.”
While signs and symptoms may vary, most typically include: a pair of puncture marks at the center of the wound; redness, swelling and severe pain around the bite; nausea, increased sweating and labored breathing; and numbness or tingling around your face or limbs.
Dr. Eaker says that while incidents often happen quickly, trying to see and remember the color, shape, and/or pattern of the snake can be crucial to the appropriate treatment method.
“Seeking immediate medical attention after a snakebite is critical to avoid long-term or terminal damage,” Dr. Eaker explained. “Until medical aid can be rendered, keeping the victim calm and still can slow the spread of the venom should the snake be poisonous.”
Unlike what many believe, and what you might have seen in movies, a tourniquet should never be applied to a snakebite. Snake venom can often cause massive swelling of the affected area and destroy red blood cells. If you block the blood flow, you are essentially trapping dead blood cells in the affected area or limb which can cause more harm to the victim than the bite itself. As such, any constricting shoes, clothing or jewelry should be removed following a snakebite.
Other mistakes to avoid after being bitten by a snake is to not slash the wound with a knife, suck out the venom, apply ice or immerse the wound in water and drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
While unfortunate, those who have been bitten by snakes might not only endure pain, but costly treatments as well. According to Dr. Eaker, each vial of anti-venom costs approximately $5,000. Depending on the severity of the wound and type of snake, eight to 10 vials are needed for treatment. Many times, treatment requires double the number of vials.
“As with many medical emergencies, the most important thing is that you receive treatment right away,” Dr. Eaker explained. “You can never assign a cost to losing a limb, being paralyzed or a life.”
In the event of a snakebite, you are urged to call 911 or getting to a hospital as quickly as possible. Although deaths from snakes in the region are rare, the side effects can be unpleasant.
Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital provides healthcare for those in the communities they serve. Founded in 1976, Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital offers a wealth of medical services including: 24 hour emergency care, advanced radiology services including CT scanning and MRIs, outpatient lab, physical therapy, surgical services, swing bed services, patient education, home health and assistive services, and more. For additional information, please visit www.rpmh.net.

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