In San Felipe, Baja, Mexico there are times when daydreaming
isn't the best fuel for locomotion. Especially if you are
walking in the desert at night in sandals or low shoes. Snakes
seem especially pleased to wake evening somnambulists who
careless where they place their feet. Passing too close to
a bush or a pile of firewood can be enough to startle a snake
In the United States, snakebite statistics
are rather encouraging. Approximately 45,000 people are bitten
each year, which includes non-venomous bites. About 8000 of
that number are venomous snake bites. But only 9 to 15 people
Northern Baja has a wide range of snakes,
including venomous ones. Rest assured none of them are as
grim as, say, the Inland Taipan of Australia, which can deliver
enough venom in a single bite to kill 100 people.
Rattlesnakes and sidewinders (called viboras
by the locals) are the predominant type of venomous serpent
in the San Felipe area. And since these creatures have a built-in
alarm system, accidental encounters are rare. One needs to
be spectacularly dull to reach into a rattling coil of snake
scales. Darwinism is ever on the alert to arrest this kind
behavior, permanently. A rattlesnake will give
you plenty of warning, unless of course you catch it completely
by surprise, which can happen if you suddenly plunge your
arms into loose piles of sticks or lumber.
Rattlesnakes generally don't like to socialize
with bipeds. Something to do with limb-envy, I think. If they
have enough room, they'll beat a hasty retreat the moment
your shadow brands their personal space. But they are not
the cleverest of creatures and may slither into a corner,
at which point they will turn and defend themself.
Venomous snakes can regulate the amount
of toxins they inject into their victims. It is this feature
that labels a snake strike in either hunting or defensive
mode. About 25% of defensive strikes are dry, which
means no venom is transferred. This is good news if you have
a snake hanging from your nose and you fall into that lucky
percentile. Most defensive bites do not utilize a full load
of venom. Again, lucky thing. This explains the encouraging
statistics for snake bite survival. But occasionally, if the
snake is panicked to a high state of aggression, a victim
can receive a pretty serious charge of venom. In a case like
that, or in any other bite incident for that matter, a healthy
course of action would be the following:
Try to identify the snake; remember
it size, any recognizable physical traits, color striations,
As difficult as it sounds, KEEP CALM.
Hysteria only accelerates the cardiovascular and lymphatic
circulation, which in turn invites the venom to take the
grand tour of the victim's physiology.
Let the injury bleed freely 20-30 seconds.
Then clean and disinfect the area with Betadine,
if possible, or wash it with soap and water, if Betadine
is not available.
Lay the victim down and immobile the bitten
area, keeping it at a neutral gravity level, in line with
the heart. Do not give them anything to eat or drink
until there is no more drainage from fang
marks. Extractor can be left in place 30 mins or more if
necessary. It also aids in keeping the venom from spreading
by applying a negative pressure against the tissue where
the venom was initially deposited and creates a gradient
which favors the movement of venom toward the Sawyer's external
If extractor not available, apply hard direct
pressure over bite using a 4 x 4 gauze pad (soaked in Betadine,
if possible) folded in half twice. Tape in place with adhesive
If a clinic or hospital is within an hour
or so, transport the victim there immediately.
If bit on hand, finger, foot or toe, wrap
leg/arm rapidly with 3" to 6" soft cloth bandage past the
knee or elbow joint immobilizing it. Leave area of fang
marks open. Apply Extractor immediately as well. Wrap no
tighter than one would for a sprain. Check to make sure
a pulse is present. If it is not, the cloth is wrapped too
DO NOT cut the bite. The additional tissue
damage can actually spread the toxin further.
DO NOT attempt to suck the venom from the
wound with your mouth.
Treat for shock and preserve body heat.
Remove any rings, bracelets, boots or other
restricting items from the victim. There will be
DO NOT apply ice packs. Recent studies indicate
this treatment makes the injury much worse.
Apply a light constricting band about 2
inches from the wound, between the bite and the heart. The
band should be made of a soft material, a handkerchief or
cloth of some kind (ie: torn strip from a shirt or skirt).
It should not be overtightened (the same pressure as the
nurse or doctor uses to test your blood pressure is good).
The aim is to restrict the lymphatic flow, not the blood.
Check and retie it frequently as the limb swells.
If the victim has to walk out, sit for
20-30 minutes to localize the venom then calmly proceed
to the nearest location that can help.
Try to obtain antivenin treatment for the
victim. Antivenom (Wyeth Crotalidae Polyvalent for rattlesnake
bites) is the only and best treatment and the victim must
get as much as necessary as soon as possible. Antivenom
administration should not be delayed. Up to 20 vials may
be needed to neutralize the effects of rattlesnake and other
crotalid venoms. Children may need more as envenomation
is likely to be much more serious in a small person compared
to a larger one.