Watch Out For Snakes as Weather Warms

NM Poison Center has tips for snakebite prevention and first aid

Snakebite season, which generally runs from April through October, is upon us. The New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center (NMPDIC) has some useful tips for snakebite prevention and first aid.

The NMPDIC fielded 72 snakebite calls during the 2018 and has already received five calls since the beginning of 2019, as, said Steven A. Seifert, MD, the center's medical director.

"In addition, we continue to see insect and scorpion stings, as well as exposures to toxic plants and mushrooms, pesticides, and outdoor entertaining hazards," Seifert said.

Venomous snakes native to New Mexico include rattlesnakes and coral snakes (found in the southwestern part of the state). Most snakebites occur when people accidentally step on or come across a snake, frightening it and causing it to bite defensively.

Outdoor workers or people spending more time outside during the warmer months of the year are at a greater risk of being bitten by a snake.

The following tips can reduce the risk when venturing into snake-prone environments:

  • Avoid surprise encounters with snakes by staying aware of your surroundings.
  • Avoid tall grass, piles of leaves, rocks and brush - and don't climb on rocks or piles of wood where a snake may be hiding or seeking shade.
  • If you must move 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.
  • Shine a flashlight on your path while walking outside at night (when snakes tend to be more active).
  • Wear protective clothing: loose, long pants and high, thick leather or rubber boots are best when spending time in places where snakes may be hiding.
  • Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris.
  • Never touch or handle a snake, even if you think it is dead or nonvenomous. Recently killed snakes may still bite by reflex. There have even been cases of detached snake heads being able to bite reflexively.
  • Try to bring a partner if you are planning to spend time in a snake-prone area. It is best not to go alone, in case you are bitten by a snake or have another emergency.
  • When spending time outdoors during warmer months, always make sure you bring a fully charged cell phone programmed with the pPoison Hotline number: 1.800.222.1222. Be sure to stay in areas where you can get a signal, especially if you're alone.
  • Consider downloading the SnakeBite911 application: https://www.crofab.com/SnakeBite911/SnakeBite911.

What to do if you are bitten by a snake:

  • Do not panic. Keep still and stay calm.
  • If the person who was bitten is having trouble breathing or losing consciousness, call 911 immediately.
  • Call the Poison Center immediately at 1.800.222.1222.
  • The experts at the Poison Center have been specially trained to deal with snakebites. Every snakebite is different, and the specialist will tell you what you need to do next, based on your specific situation.
  • The Poison Center specialist can also tell you where to go and call ahead to the right medical facility to make sure you get the care you need and quickly.
  • If you are in a remote location and do not have cellular service, ask someone to drive you to the nearest emergency medical facility. Only drive yourself as a last resort. Call the Poison Hotline as soon as you have telephone service.
  • Keep the part of your body that was bitten straight and at heart-level, unless told otherwise by the Poison Center specialist.
  • Remove all jewelry and tight clothing.
  • Wash the bite with soap and water and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing, if available.
  • Note the time and try to remember the color and shape of the snake, but don't move closer to it. Only take a photograph of the snake if you can do so from a safe distance.
  • Do not do any of the following:
  • Do not pick up, attempt to trap, or kill the snake.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet or attempt to restrict blood flow to the affected area.
  • Do not cut the wound.
  • Do not attempt to suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply heat, cold, electricity or any substances to the wound.
  • Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages or take any drugs or medicines.

For additional outdoor poison prevention tips and resources visit: http://nmpoisoncenter.unm.edu/education/pub-ed/pp_tip_pages/index.html.

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