Friday, June 22, 2012

Kids and snake bites

Have you ever noticed that the largest group at the zoo is gathered around the reptile cage?  Kids are naturally curious about snakes, that is, until an adult can change their minds!

One of my friends tells the story of being “attacked” by her son’s corn snake in the bathroom (never mind that the corn snake is docile, non-venomous, and is common as a pet).  The snake, Sid, had decided to vacation out of his cage, and moved in under a pile of clothes in the bathroom.  Unfortunately, my friend was not told that Sid was AWOL.  As she gathered up the clothes in her arms, she felt “something cold” wrap itself around her arm, and immediately knew what the situation was.  She swung and flung her arms around until Sid landed on the bathroom floor with an audible PLOP.  She stationed herself on the bathroom counter and armed herself with the only thing available…a toothbrush!!  It was a standoff!  The screams from the bathroom sent her husband running and Sid scurrying.  Sid was finally found and returned to his cage without a hiss, and lives there until this very day, cared for and loved by her son.

But what about snakes that are not as harmless as Sid?  Most snakebites occur from April to October during the warmer months, and coincidentally, when more people are enjoying outdoor activities.

There are 8,000 snakebites reported each year, but it is rare for someone to die from a snakebite.  It is even more rare for a child to be bitten; however, children suffer more severe effects due to smaller body mass.  Of 39 deaths reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers from 1983-2008, two children died of snakebites (CDC).  Even though snakebites are not that common, and you don’t think your child is at risk, it’s still a good idea to know how to prevent and treat snakebites.  You can never tell when an incident might occur. 

Prevention & Treatment:
•    Teach children not to approach or touch a snake -- back away slowly
•    Wear boots and pants when hiking or in tall grass
•    Use extra caution around wood piles and rocks
•    Always assume a snakebite is venomous -- be safe, not sorry!
•    Don’t try to catch the snake, snakes can still envenomnate up to 1 hour after the first bite
•    A cell phone is the primary tool against a snakebite -- call 911!
•    Remain calm and reassure child
•    Don't delay treatment -- call 911 and get medical care ASAP
•    Move child to a safe area away from the snake
•    Don’t cut wound or attempt to remove venom
•    Don’t apply ice or a tourniquet, this can further damage tissue
•    Remove all rings, watches and restrictive clothing in case of swelling
•    Monitor heart rate and breathing
•    Have child lie down, rest, and keep calm
•    Wash bite with soap and water
•    Keep child warm
•    Do not give child anything to eat or drink
If you cannot cannot reach medical care in 30 minutes:
•    Apply a bandage, wrapped 2-4 inches above the bite to help slow venom.  This should not cut off the flow from a vein or artery and the band should be loose enough to slip one finger under
•    Note the time of bite so it can be reported to the emergency department physician
•    If possible, try to remember to draw a circle around the affected area and mark the time of the bite and initial reaction.  If able, redraw a circle around the site of injury marking progression of time
•    If possible, note what the snake looks like, size and type to inform emergency department staff

Snakes typically avoid people, and only bite when threatened, surprised, or stepped on
Snakes can still bite 30-60 minutes after they are “dead”
Snakes don’t go looking for people to bite!

That’s all for today, folks!  Late for my herpetology class!

Debbie Nichols, RN, BSN, is the Injury Prevention/Trauma Outreach Coordinator for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

References: Boston Children’s Hospital, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

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