Wilderness First Aid: A Guide to Evidence-Based Snakebite Treatment

Click here for a link to a Reddit thread in which I discuss a review of the ineffectiveness of the Sawyer snakebite kit, specifically the Sawyer Extractor. Herpetologist Jordan Benjamin, author of the review, showed up in the thread and he and many other users compiled a wealth of evidence based information on proper treatment of snake envenomation. Sawyer showed up to the party as well, in a dismally failed attempt to defend their dangerous and ineffective product.

To summarize Mr. Benjamin’s excellent instructions for snake bite treatment in the woods:

  • *. Snake bite kits, including those employing a suction device to remove venom (especially the Sawyer Extractor), have been proven completely ineffective at best and harmful at worst. Their only valid use is to remove bot-fly larvae from the skin. Your snake bite kit should consist of two things: a Sharpie and a cell phone or other means of communication. Keep in mind that the vast majority of snake bites occur when people attempt to handle a snake.
  • 1. Walk, don’t run, away from the snake’s vicinity, 20-30 feet, and sit down. DO NOT attempt to capture or kill the snake. Circle the bite with the sharpie and note the time. Remove restrictive clothing or jewelry from the limb. A compression bandage with immobilization/splinting is recommended for elapid/neurotoxic envenomation but not crotalid/hemotoxic venom. If you don’t know, don’t bother with a compression bandage or splinting. DO NOT wash, cut, electrocute, heat, cool, apply suction, tourniquet, or any home remedy to the bite. DO NOT take aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAID’s after snake bite. Acetaminophen is OK for pain, 1,000 mg orally is recommended. Note the time and dose with your sharpie.
  • 2. While sitting, calm down and plan your immediate evacuation. Remind yourself that few cases of snake bite prove fatal and your chances are good. Retrieve your means of communication (cell phone, PLB, SPOT, ham radio, etc.) and continually attempt to reach help. Do you have phone service? If not, when did you last? Your efforts should be focused on either walking out of the woods or summoning rescue if needed. The only evidence-based treatment for snake envenomation is the appropriate antivenom.
  • 3. Continue to monitor the bite every fifteen minutes, and outline the expanding area of swelling, noting the time. Also note any associated symptoms- unusual taste or smell, changes in vision or hearing, bleeding, dizziness, difficulty breathing, pain, other sensations, salivation, feelings of impending doom, muscle weakness, or anything else you feel is out of the ordinary. Writing down as much information as you can about the bite and your experience is critical to caregivers.
  • 4. If you have difficulty reaching help, begin self-evacuation and start walking towards help. Take stock of supplies, and bring enough to get you rescued. Gear can be replaced.

That’s about all there is to it. Check out the linked article for much, much more detail.

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