Apr 1, 2002 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Snakebite Prevention and First Aid

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Apr 1;65(7):1377.

How can I avoid snakebites?

Most snakebites occur between April and October, when outdoor activities are popular. You can avoid snakebites by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid places where snakes may live. These places include tall grass or brush, rocky areas, fallen logs, bluffs, swamps, marshes, and deep holes in the ground.

  • When moving through tall grass or weeds, poke at the ground in front of you with a long stick to scare away snakes.

  • Watch where you step and where you sit when outdoors.

  • Wear loose, long pants and high, thick leather or rubber boots.

  • Shine a flashlight on your path when walking outside at night.

  • Never handle a snake, even if you think it is dead. Recently killed snakes may still bite by reflex.

What should I do if a snake bites me?

  • Stay calm.

  • If you see the snake, try to remember what it looks like. Do NOT approach the snake; don't try to catch it or to kill it.

  • Take off any jewelry or tight clothing near the bite quickly, before swelling starts.

  • Lift a bitten arm or leg so it is level with your heart.

  • Clean the bite wound. Be sure to wipe in the direction away from the wound.

  • If you think the bite was from a poisonous snake, get to a hospital as soon as you can. In most of the United States, you should have time to get medical help before the bite is a serious danger to your life.

  • If medical help is more than 30 minutes away, tie an elastic wrap two inches above the bite. The wrap should be loose enough to slip a finger underneath it.

  • Do NOT bleed the wound.

  • Do NOT try to suck the venom out of the wound.

  • Do NOT put ice on the bite


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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