Snakebites pathophysiology

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

Pathophysiology

Most snakebites are caused by non-venomous snakes. Of the roughly 3,000 known species of snake found worldwide, only 15 percent are considered dangerous to humans. Snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica. The most diverse and widely hihpihh distributed snake family, the Colubrids, has only a few members which are harmful to humans. Of the 120 known indigenous snake species in North America, only 20 are venomous to human beings, all belonging to the families Viperidae and Elapidae. However, in the United States, every state except Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii is home to at least one of 20 venomous snake species.

Since the act of delivering venom is completely voluntary, all venomous snakes are capable of biting without injecting venom into their victim. Such snakes will often deliver such a "dry bite" (about 50% of the time) rather than waste their venom on a creature too large for them to eat. Some dry bites may also be the result of imprecise timing on the snake's part, as venom may be prematurely released before the fangs have penetrated the victim’s flesh. Even without venom, some snakes, particularly large constrictors such as those belonging to the Boidae and Pythonidae families, can deliver damaging bites; large specimens often causing severe lacerations as the victim or the snake itself pulls away, causing the flesh to be torn by the needle-sharp recurved teeth embedded in the victim. While not normally as life-threatening as a bite from a venomous species, the bite can be at least temporarily debilitating and could lead to dangerous infections if improperly dealt with.

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