Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Snakebite Precautions and First Aid

Timber Rattlesnake--notice the wide head
In light of a recent run-in my husband and I had hiking on the Little Bottoms trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I thought I'd share an article I just read in Backpacker Magazine.  Our encounter was not quite as close, nor as potentially deadly, but it could have been.  A couple seconds later coming up that trail, and my husband could easily have stepped on that snake instead of hearing it rattle first.  Our timber rattler might not have been able to inject the neurotoxin that this unfortunate woman had to deal with in addition to the venom, but we were also much further away from help when our encounter occurred.  I have since wondered what we would do if one of us were struck by a timber rattler while hiking in these hills.  This article is one woman's encounter with a snake that could have had a different ending if she had not done the right things at the right time.

Out Alive: Bitten by a Rattlesnake

Through researching the internet, I have concluded that if I or one of my hiking companions is struck by either of the two poisonous snakes found in the Smokies, I need to remember to do the following:

*Remain calm.  Yeah, right!  However, this will slow the spread of the venom through the body if we can pull it off.
*Remove all jewelry that may be difficult to remove after the area swells.
*Try to immobilize the area as much as possible.  For instance, make a splint or sling if the bite is on the arm.
*Keep the affected area at or below the level of the heart.
*One of my hiking partners carries a snake bite kit.  Although there is some confusion on the web as to the effectiveness, National Institutes of Health does recommend using one like the ones made by Sawyer.  I may look into buying one of those.
*If it is possible, the victim can be carried out.  However, if it means a major delay in getting help, it is better that the victim walk out.

*Do not cut the bite wound with a knife or anything else.
*Do not attempt to suck the poison out of the wound.
*Do not waste time trying to kill and catch the snake.  (I wouldn't be tempted to do this anyway, but that is the advice I've found on the web.)  But do try to remember the color and shape (especially of the head) to help rescue personnel identify the snake.
*Do not apply ice packs to the wound.
*Do not apply a tourniquet.  There is some confusion here, so I suggest you do your own reading on this one.  I, personally, will be afraid to apply one with my limited knowledge of first aid.

Important recommendations:
*Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid Course--something I would love to do soon!
*Pay close attention to the area in which you hike.  Be aware of where snakes might be and be on the lookout for them.
*Never reach into crevices in rocks or under piles of rocks or brush where snakes may be hiding.
*If you have to walk through an area where you cannot see your feet, use your hiking pole in front of you to give the snake time to get out of your way.
*As a caveat, I am not a medical professional.  I simply tried to gather information for my own use on the trails.  I did use information from what I consider to be professional sites, primarily the Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health.
Copperhead--the only other poisonous snake in the Smokies


  1. thank you very much for sharing the information ... god bless you


  2. Hi – Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Hiking Community? Our members will love it.
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    Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
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  3. Hi Tami, Just found your blog from Jeff's at Hiking In the Smokys and although not fond of the first pic that popped up (LOL!!), I love the blog and can't wait to read more. Always love finding new people who love these trails as much as I do and live close by. Read enough back posts to get to the one about your drive into Cades Cove after the April storm. My experience and emotions were similar. That first glimpse of Chestnut Top trail literally takes your breath away. I look forward to reading much more from you. Sharon P.S. Just kidding about the snake pic - the post was excellent and very timely.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Sharon. I love Jeff's Hiking in the Smokys blog, too. I just added a post a minute ago and that's when I saw your comment here. Hope you enjoy!

  4. P.S. Maybe you'll like these pictures better. ;)