It’s a beautiful day: the sun is out, the trees are green, there’s a nice breeze, and the only sounds are the singing birds in the trees and the crunching of leaves under your boots. Hiking in the woods of the Great Basin with a friend in the late afternoon provides a sense of peace and happiness that only comes when the beauty of the world surrounds you. You look up at your friend as you walk, conversing about anything, when all of the sudden, you feel a sharp pain on your calf that convinces you to look down. Rattlesnake. Amidst the conversation and the distractions of the forest, you didn’t hear the warning of its rattle, you didn’t see the venomous snake, and you didn’t have a clue what to do next.
“You have to suck the venom out!”
A common misconception surrounding venomous snake bites is that it’s a good idea to suck the venom out of the wound. For our purposes, the properties of rattlesnake venom will be discussed in specificity (there are multiple effects of venom depending on the snake). Rattlesnakes belong to the family Viperidae and the subfamily crotalinae. Crotalinae produce hemotoxic venom, which create hemorrhaging by blocking the paths of the red blood cells through blood vessels and damage tissue. With these effects, sucking the venom out would be extremely dangerous. In order to suck out venom, one would have to cut the punctures open wider, though it is virtually impossible to suck it out hard enough to get all the venom out. Even so, if venom were to be sucked out of the wound, there would be a chance of spreading the venom throughout the body of the person sucking the venom through his or her saliva as well as irritate the wound site on the bite victim. There are many misconceptions surrounding what one should do in the event of a venomous snake bite, namely using tourniquets, opening the wound, and applying ice or electrically shocking the wound, but the only safe way to treat a snake bite is through antivenom.
For a rattlesnake, the antivenom would be a crotalinae polyvalent substance, which would counteract the hemotoxin. This is created by extracting venom from a member of the crotalinae subfamily, injecting small dosages of it into an animal for several weeks (usually a horse, sheep, or goat) in order to create antibodies, then extracting the animal’s blood and centrifuging it to separate the antibodies in the serum from the blood. This serum is what is used as antivenom, and though it can be very expensive, it is completely and absolutely necessary to successfully treat a venomous snake bite.
So next time you’re bitten by a venomous snake, PLEASE do not try to suck the venom out or have your buddy suck the venom out, but remain calm, call an ambulance, pay attention to the way the snake looked (if you don’t know what kind of snake it is), and be treated with antivenom.