Children's, Health and Safety

Summer is snakebite season: How to keep your child safe

Now that warm weather is here, your children are probably spending more time outside. Can you guess what else may be planning to join them? 

“When temperatures are consistently above 34 degrees at night and consistently above 64 degrees during the day, that’s when we start to see more and more snakes,” said Ann Slattery, managing director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama. For central Alabama, ‘snake season’ typically runs March through November.

And when there are snakes, there are also snakebites. “We get 150 to 200 snakebite calls per year at Poison Center,” Slattery said.

There are six poisonous snakes that are native to Alabama, five of which are known as pit vipers. Some of the most well known pit vipers are rattlesnakes, water moccasins/cottonmouths and copperheads.

“All snakebites should be seen in a healthcare setting, preferably in an emergency department,” Slattery said. Seeking medical attention for a snakebite is important whether the bite is two punctures, one puncture or even just a scratch, she said.

If your child is bitten by a snake, Slattery has some recommendations. First of all, she said, it is important to remain calm. If the child is having difficulty breathing, parents or caregivers should call 911 immediately. Otherwise, she said, get the child to an emergency department quickly. Do not apply ice or a tourniquet. Remove any restrictive clothing or items like rings, bracelets and watches before swelling sets in. Keep the limb slightly below the child’s heart.

In the emergency department, doctors will treat the wound as well as any exposure to tetanus and bacteria. They will assess for pain and swelling. There is an antivenin for symptomatic patients after a pit viper bite that is administered through an I.V. Patients may be kept in the hospital overnight for observation.

Slattery said here’s one thing you definitely don’t need to bring with you to the hospital, and that’s the snake. “We do not encourage people to capture the snake that bit the child. Doctors will look at the child’s symptoms, not the type of snake. The current antivenin for pit vipers that’s available will treat any kind of pit viper bite,” she said.

The best way to avoid snakebites is to avoid the type of areas where snakes may be lurking. These include tall grasses, dense gardens, and piles of leaves and yard debris. “Always be aware of your surroundings outdoors,” Slattery said. And, remember, snakes are typically afraid of humans and are trying to hide from potential predators. “If a snake bites, it is trying to scare us away.”

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