Are snakebites our biggest hidden health crisis?

On I-95 at mile marker 152.6 in the County of Prince William, motorists can expect potential delays due to a disabled vehicle. The south right shoulder is closed.

When you reflect on the phrase “health crisis,” what comes to mind? For many, it’ll be the surge in opioid overdoses. Others may reflect on obesity or alcoholism. But depending on where you live in the world, you might not consider snakebites.

Recent data suggests that 138,000 people die each year because of a snakebite. Unfortunately, that figure is a rough estimate, as the World Health Organization (WHO) says that not all countries record every death. In the United States, fewer than 37,000 people suffer from a venomous snake attack each year. Of those people, between 5 and 6 will die.

If the latest figures have caused you some worry, it’s worth exploring the topic a little further. From your risks to how you should respond if you see a snake, we’re here to shed some light on the topic.

How common are poisonous snakes in the United States?

Although you’ll find poisonous snakes in most states, certain areas have higher risks. Texas and Florida have the highest number of snakebites each year. However, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, West Virginia, and Oklahoma are also hotspots.

There are certain areas where snakes are more likely. For example, when you’re rock climbing, in desert regions, or in areas with lots of bushes. As urbanized regions stretch out into previously natural habitats, snakes are becoming more common in cities, too. Bites are particularly common in areas that are easy to access, such as feet. As such, wearing shoes rather than sandals or thongs provides some protection.

What should you do if you see a snake?

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between a venomous and a non-venomous snake. As such, if you see one, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave the area. Never attempt to pick it up or try to trap it, as doing so increases the likelihood of it becoming aggressive.

If you want to avoid a snakebite in your home, call your local animal control center if you see one in there. After a professional has resolved the problem, try to identify gaps where it may have entered.

It’s also worth knowing that your chances of encountering a snakebite are slightly higher in certain countries. For example, the tropics and Australia. As such, you should remain extra-vigilant when spending lots of time outdoors in such regions.

How do you respond to a snakebite?

The good news is, the majority of snakebites aren’t dangerously venomous. However, unless you’re confident the snake is non-venomous (for example, if your pet corn snake bites you), you should seek medical attention. When you do so, the person treating you will possibly want to contact the nearest poisons center to obtain guidance. It’s always useful when you can provide as much information about the size, color, and pattern of the snake in question.

The CDC also recommends taking the following steps immediately after a snakebite:

  • Do not touch the snake
  • Don’t apply a tourniquet
  • Try to calm down or calm the person down to reduce the venom spreading
  • Do not suck out the venom
  • Rinse the wound briefly with soapy water, but do not submerge it or apply ice

If the person who has been bitten appears to show immediate signs of a response, such as vomiting, you may want to call 911.

Overall, your risk of snakebite death depends on where you live and the activities you engage in. They’re mercifully rare in most parts of the world, but vigilance is often wise.

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About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.