Snakebites overview

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

A snakebite is a bite inflicted by a snake. Snakes often bite their prey when feeding, but occasionally, they bite humans. People can avoid and treat snakebites by knowing their etiology, along with prevention tips, and first-aid and hospital treatment.

Epidemiology and Demographics

Every state but Maine, Alaska and Hawaii is home to at least one of 20 domestic poisonous snake species. About 8,000 people a year receive venomous bites in the United States; nine to 15 victims die. Some experts say that because victims can't always positively identify a snake, they should seek prompt care for any bite, though they may think the snake is nonpoisonous. Some deaths are sudden, however in fact it is uncommon to die within four hours of a snake bite. In the 1900’s, the untreated death rates were as high as 40% to 50%. Improved supportive treatment and the availability of effective antivenoms has reduced this considerably.

Natural History, Complications and Prognosis

Recovery is usually complete, though the patient usually develops a sensitivity to equine immunoglobulin. If the patient develops serum sickness, the severity is reduced by steroid administration (eg. prednisolone 1mg/kg every 8 hours) until resolution occurs. A course of steroids is recommended in all patients who receive polyvalent antivenoms.

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