Snakebites primary prevention

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

Primary Prevention

Snakes are most likely to bite when they feel threatened, are startled, provoked, and/or have no means of escape when cornered. Encountering a snake is always considered dangerous and it is recommended to leave the vicinity. There is no practical way to safely identify any snake species as appearances vary dramatically.

Snakes are likely to approach residential areas when attracted by prey, such as rodents. Practicing regular pest control can reduce the threat of snakes considerably. It is beneficial to know the species of snake that are common in home areas, while traveling, or hiking. Areas of the world such as Africa, Australia, Neotropics, and southern Asia are inhabited by many particularly dangerous snakes species. Being wary of snake presence and ultimately avoiding it when known is strongly recommended.

Sturdy over-the-ankle boots, loose clothing and responsible behavior offer effective protection from snakebites when in the wilderness. It is important to tread heavily and cause loud ground noises. The rationale behind this is that the snake will feel the vibrations and flee from the area. However, this generally only applies to North America as some larger and more aggressive snakes in other parts of the world, such as king cobras and black mambas, will actually protect their territory. When dealing with direct encounters it is best to remain silent and motionless. If the snake has not yet fled it is important to step away slowly and cautiously.

When doing camping activities such as gathering firewood at night, it is important to make use of a flashlight and avoid walking barefooted. Approximately 85% of the natural snakebites occur below the victims' knees. Snakes may be unusually active during especially warm nights with ambient temperatures exceeding 70°F, and a person not wearing footwear will have no protection from a potential bite.

It is advised not to reach blindly into hollow logs, flip over large rocks, and enter old cabins or other potential snake hiding-places. When rock climbing, it is not safe to grab ledges or crevices without thoroughly and extensively examining them first, as snakes are coldblooded creatures and often sunbathe atop rock ledges.

Pet owners of domestic animals and/or snakes should be wary that a snake is capable of causing injury and that is necessary to always act with caution — approximately 65% of snakebites occur to the victims’ hands or fingers. When handling snakes it is never wise to consume alcoholic beverages. In the United States more than 40% of snakebite victims intentionally put themselves in harms way by attempting to capture wild snakes or by carelessly handling their dangerous pets — 40% of that number had a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent or more.[1]

It is also important to avoid snakes that appear to be dead, as some species will actually rollover on their backs and stick out their tongue to fool potential threats. A snake's detached head can immediately reflex and potentially bite. The bite can induce just as bad an effect as a live snake bite.[2] Dead snakes are also incapable of regulating the venom they inject, so a bite from a dead snake can often contain large amounts of venom.


  1. Kurecki B, Brownlee H (1987). "Venomous snakebites in the United States". J Fam Pract. 25 (4): 386–92. PMID 3655676.
  2. Gold B, Barish R (1992). "Venomous snakebites. Current concepts in diagnosis, treatment, and management". Emerg Med Clin North Am. 10 (2): 249–67. PMID 1559468.