How to Survive a Rattlesnake Bite

How to Survive a Rattlesnake Bite
Rattlesnakes are members of the viper family of snakes. Each year there are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 snake bites with venom injection in the United States. These numbers include rattlesnake bites, as well as, bites from water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that about five people die every year from the effects of snake venom; learning how to deal with a rattlesnake bite increases your chances of surviving.


Difficulty: Moderate

If You Can Summon Help, But Not Reach a Hospital Yourself...

Things You’ll Need:
  • Area map
  • Cell or satellite phone
  • Water
  • Soap
  • First-aid kit
  • Wrap
Step 1
Understand the risk of a rattlesnake encounter. Hiking or camping around boulders, tall grass, leaf piles or logs and spending time in deserts, prairies, forests, mountains, and even on beaches, make it possible you will come across one or more rattlesnakes. There is no working rattlesnake repellent on the market, and the animal may strike and deliver a bite during the day, as well as the night.
Step 2
Remain calm and orient yourself. Have a map of the area on your person at all times and pinpoint your location. Staying calm may slow the spread of snake venom in your body.
Step 3
Call for help. Contact emergency medical personnel by cell or satellite phone right away. Give the operator your map coordinates and mention significant nature markers you can see from your location. This makes it easier for rescuers to find you. Do not move away from your location once first responders confirm that they are en route to you.
Step 4
Clean the wound and wait for help to arrive. Wash the bite area gently with soap and water, cover it with a sterile dressing from a first-aid kit and remain seated until help arrives. Lower the bitten limb so that it is not at or above heart level.

If You Cannot Summon Help...

Step 1
Remove jewelry from the affected limb. If you are bitten on the hand or arm, make sure to take off rings, watches and wristbands. Because the bite area may swell, you might not be able to remove these items later.
Step 2
Suck out as much of the venom as possible with your mouth, but only if you know that it may take you hours to reach help. Make sure your mouth is free of sores. Spit blood and venom onto the ground. Continue this process for about 45 minutes. Walter Howard, professor emeritus of wildlife biology and vertebrate ecology at the University of California at Davis, suggests that you take this course of action only if help is too far away.
Step 3
Apply a loose wrap to the bitten limb. Do not tighten it to constrict blood flow completely, but only to gently compress the area to slow the spread of the venom. Make sure you place it about three inches away from the bite site, between the wound and the heart. If the wrap leads to swelling, loosen it more.
Step 4
Return to your vehicle and try to reach a medical facility. Do not wait for the swelling or skin discoloration to set in or worsen. While it is true that rattlesnakes actually inject venom in only an estimated 20 percent of reported attacks, you do not want to wait until you are sure that you are suffering from the venom's effects. Even if you do not believe that a lot of venom was injected, the poison that did make it into your body may cause tissue damage.

Tips & Warnings

If you have previously survived a rattlesnake bite and are bitten a second time, you may suffer from a potentially fatal allergic reaction to the venom.
Sucking out the rattlesnake venom by mouth is a controversial method of treatment that may cause you harm if you ingest the venom; consider purchasing a snakebite kit with suction device before heading outdoors.

Article Written By Sylvia Cochran

Based in the Los Angeles area, Sylvia Cochran is a seasoned freelance writer focusing on home and garden, travel and parenting articles. Her work has appeared in "Families Online Magazine" and assorted print and Internet publications.