Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.See all posts »
Snake Bites: Questions About Venom and Antivenom Serums
A reader asks: “Do all hospitals have antivenom serums? Also, is it true that sucking out the venom from the wound of a snake bite prevents poisoning?”
With regard to hospitals in North America, some hospitals stock antivenom products in their pharmacies, but most do not. The hospitals that tend to have the antivenoms are those in locations where snake bites are more commonly seen, such as the southwestern U.S. On occasion, antivenom is stored in locations (e.g., zoos) where snakes are housed for display. In the event that someone is bitten by a venomous snake and requires antivenom, the treating physician can locate antivenom by calling a regional poison control center for assistance. In the United States, assistance in finding antivenom can be obtained 24 hours a day from the University of Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (telephone: 520-626-6016).
There is no good evidence that sucking out the venom from the wound of a snake bite prevents poisoning. This includes using suction from one’s mouth or a mechanical device. Although many items, such as rubber suction cups, plastic extraction devices, electrical stun guns, and other gadgets have been recommended at one time or another to either remove venom or to neutralize its effects, none of these has been proven to be of any benefit. Furthermore, if their application causes the victim to delay in seeking definitive medical care (e.g., antivenom if needed), they can actually be harmful. The current recommendations from snake bite experts do not advocate using suction as a method to minimize or prevent the effects of a snake bite.
photo by Sherman Minton
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