Most fear of snakes derives from fear of venomous snakes, or the types of snakes that can inject a potentially lethal venom with their bite.
Often the term poisonous snakes is used interchangeable with the term venomous snakes. However, poisonous snakes refers to those snakes that are dangerous when consumed, a completely different category.
Types of Snakes
People can consume rattlesnake meat, for example, and not fall ill. On the other hand, being bit by a rattlesnake could cause serious health problems.
Approximately one-quarter of all snake species, or 750 snakes, fit into the venomous snake category. Depending on taxonomic preferences, they might belong to a handful of snake families.
Two or three of the most common families, the Elapidae, (which consists of cobras, coral snakes, mambas, and taipans) and the Viperidae or vipers, which consists of adders, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and vipers (or a separate Crotalidae family of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads).
Four genera of venomous snakes, three in the Crotalidae family and the coral snakes, inhabit various areas of the United States:
- Copperhead Snakes
- Coral Snakes
- Cottonmouth Snakes
The Pit Vipers link in the box points to an article with an extended discussion of their habitat preferences and related information.
While up to eight thousand venomous snake bites are reported on a yearly basis, quick thinking by the victim or a nearby person, along with proper medical care means that the vast majority of venomous snake bite victims live to tell their stories. Recent statistics suggest that about one dozen snakebite victims per year do not live to tell their story.
In order to stay in the majority, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests following a step process for anyone suspected of being bitten by a venomous snake.
First, known the symptoms of a poisonous snake bite.
- A pair of puncture marks at the wound
- Redness and swelling around the bite
- Severe pain at the site of the bite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Labored breathing (in extreme cases, breathing may stop altogether)
- Disturbed vision
- Increased salivation and sweating
- Numbness or tingling around your face and/or limbs
Second, seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services.
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
- Keep still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom.
- (If you are at work), inform your supervisor.
- Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
- Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.
- Wash the bite with soap and water.
- Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
© 2010. Patricia A. Michaels