Snake Bites, Scorpion Stings, and Envenomation*

I have been taking a Travel Medicine class through the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the University of Minnesota, and I recently did a module on Snake Envenomation. There are many dangerous snakes in Zambia (perhaps I’ll add pictures of some later), so it got me thinking about creating a guide for dealing with snake bites for our team in case someone does get bit. I thought you might find it interesting as well. I sure learned a lot!

*Zambia is equipped to deal with venomous snake bites. The quicker you act, the fewer complications there will be. Treat snake bites seriously, but know that the prognosis is usually very good.

If you get bit [and it is venomous]:

Safety first – get away from the snake

Identify the snake – color, markings, shape of head, size, location.

This is very helpful for more immediate medical care, though not imperative. (So, for example, if your child screams and runs in the house saying, “A snake bit me!”, don’t go in search of the snake. See if they know what color it was or how big it was, but stay calm and continue with the following steps regardless of what they saw).

Stay calm

Anxiety and running around only spreads the venom more quickly

Wash the bite with soap and water

(If venom was spit into eyes, wash copiously with water. Wash infected eye first – from nose-side to outer-side – for 20 minutes. Then wash other eye for 20 minutes in same manner).

Apply an Ace bandage to the bite/wound

(See the diagram below) Start wrapping past the bite and continue wrapping over the bite and toward the body. Bandage should NOT be tight like a tourniquet. You should be able to wiggle toes/fingers, have normal coloring and feeling, etc. This is just a light pressure dressing. After applying bandage, splint the joints above and below the bite (e.g. if bit on the shin, splint the knee down to the ankle). The key is pressured immobilization.

Get transport to the nearest clinic or hospital

(Call SES [Specialty Emergency Services] and start driving – they will meet you halfway). If you are at Ciyanjano or in town, head to either Fairview Medicare Hospital or to CFB.

Watch for signs of swelling or bleeding

If there is swelling and the bandage begins to cut off circulation, loosen the bandage but keep it on.

If the person stops breathing, breathe for them

(i.e. pulmonary resuscitation/mouth-to-mouth, NOT chest compressions) and wait for SES. Their heart is still beating, but their lungs are paralyzed.

Pressured Immobilization

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80% of snake bites are dry bites, meaning they are nonvenomous. Most snakes will give either a “warning” bite or sign (stand up and flare their hood and hiss) – take the hint and get away. If you don’t, they will bite for real, and it will be serious.

You will know within minutes if the bite is dry or not – if it is venomous there will be severe sharp pain, tingling, local swelling, and it will burn very badly. Baby snakes never warn and never give dry bites – they always bite to kill.

Harmless snakes are more likely to bite without hesitation.

Dead snakes can bite, even after being dead for 60+ minutes.

Most snakes can flare a hood to mimic a cobra, so don’t just assume it is a cobra if you see a hood.

Treat scorpion stings the same as venomous snake bites.

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2 responses to “Snake Bites, Scorpion Stings, and Envenomation*

  1. Thanks for the info! We have cobras around where we live. I thought that if you got bit you were supposed to cut open the bite and suck out all the poison and spit it back on the snake. I’ll have to check and see if our local clinic is equipped to handle snake bites.

  2. Wow. Snakes were already my least favorite animal before I read your post, now they are even more despicable. However as I read, many memories of our snake adventures flashed through my mind, particularly the time when we had all those baby snakes out and about at Camp Timothy. One slithered through the house in the day time, we stepped over one at night time on the way to the pool, we squished one with a flower pot (poor thing), I chopped off one’s head with a khasu (and had a moment of complete gratification in fulfilling Gen. 3:15 – “he shall bite your heel but you will crush his head [paraphrased]”), all of which, our guards told us they were cobras, only to be told by the Reptile Farm that they were non-poisonous. It still is true: “Syndikonda njoka!”

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