Don't let snakes sneak up on you

About 7,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes annually in the U.S. Most of the bites occur between April and October, when outdoor activities are popular.

In Texas, about one or two people die each year from venomous snake bites, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The most common type of venomous snake in Texas is the pit viper – a classification that includes the copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnake.

Of those, copperheads are blamed for most bites seen in Dallas-area emergency rooms, says Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, professor of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Luckily, the copperhead is the least dangerous of the pit vipers and many bitten patients may not need antivenin therapy.

Snakes will strike when threatened or surprised, but most will usually avoid the encounter. If you are moving through tall grass or weeds, poke at the ground in front of you with a long stick to scare away snakes. Watch where you step and where you sit when outdoors. When hiking, wear boots and long pants.

“If bitten, the most important thing to remember is to seek immediate medical attention at your local emergency room,” Dr. Kleinschmidt says.

Before you reach the ER, Dr. Kleinschmidt suggests following these first aid rules:

• Stay calm.
• If you see the snake, try to remember what it looks like. Don’t try to catch the reptile; it could bite you again.  
• Quickly remove any jewelry or tight clothing near the bite, before swelling starts.
• Wash the area with soap and water if possible.
• Do not make cuts over the snake bite or apply a tourniquet or constricting device.
• Do not apply a cold pack or ice to the bite area.
• Try to avoid using the bitten extremity if possible. If bitten on the hand, apply a splint to remind you not to use it.

Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/emergency to learn more about clinical services for emergency medicine at UT Southwestern.

Media Contact: Connie Piloto

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