Mobile Medical Devices During Disaster: Treating Snakebites
The following is my sixth and final comment in a series of articles reviewing FDA guidelines on using Medical Devices in a disaster, with my comments in italics from my reflections about volunteering in medical clinics following Katrina. Concerning Treating Snakebites:
If medical care is rapidly available, then initial treatment should include immobilizing the affected limb and minimizing physical activity as much as possible (ideally entirely immobilizing the patient) during transport to a medical facility.
If care is delayed, a loose-fitting pressure bandage that does not restrict arterial and venous flow (but does limit lymphatic flow) is recommended as a first-aid measure while the victim is moved as quickly as possible to a medical facility. Tourniquets that impair blood flow to the affected limb are generally contraindicated.
Specific therapy for snakebites varies with the type of snake. Procedures such as making cuts over the bite marks and attempting to suck out the venom should not be done. Ice should not be placed on the bite. Immediate transport to a medical facility and treatment with snake antivenin is the treatment of choice.
This is not a condition I encountered in Katrina, although I heard that the floodwaters brought out more snakes. From my experience as an Urgent Care physician, I've encountered plenty of patients who have followed folk wisdom and cut themselves -- even sucking after the cut -- to try and remove venom. These methods aren't effective and tourniquets do more harm by allowing for tissue to be deprived of the blood needed to keep them alive.