Edward and Bella from "Twilight: Eclipse"

Beware what lurks in the bushes. (Edward and Bella—Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart—get some alone time in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.")

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

You’re wading through brush when you feel a nip on your ankle. You look down and see a couple of marks, but don’t see what bit you (and it’s better not to go looking since you might get bitten again). Two marks. Fang marks. Have you disturbed a copperhead or was it that Twilight boy taking a nap?

Most of the time, you’ll know fairly quickly if it was a venomous snake bite.  You’ll have severe pain, swelling, or both. Sometimes, large blisters will form. As it seems with all things snake related, these guidelines aren’t a hundred percent accurate for all bites. It may be hours before you develop problems from some snakes, like the Mojave rattlesnake and coral snake.

A vampire bite? Most people who get bitten seem to have this “the pain feels so good” look on their face. With snake bites, I don’t think there’s any doubt. The pain feels really bad, really quickly.

Vomiting? Snake Bite. Craving for blood? Vamp.

Paleness? Could be either.

Chance of dying? With a vampire, forget it. You’re now one of the undead. Unless it’s a vamp from True Blood; then … never mind. It’s so complicated these days. With a poisonous snake bite, you have much better odds of living.

  • Only eighty percent of poisonous snake bites inject venom. Thirty percent or so of those inject a fairly small amount. So your chances of getting a really bad bite are fifty-fifty.
  • In the U.S., you have over a ninety-five percent chance of surviving a poisonous snake bite. With the proper use of anti-venom, it’s about ninety-nine-and-a-half percent survival. You may lose a digit or two.

Snake-Bite Treatment

There’s no treatment for a vampire bite; you’re doomed … or destined for an eternity of tortured bliss, depending on the vamp. So let’s focus on snakes for a minute. The first step in any snake-bite treatment is to remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry in case of swelling.

Then, if it’s venomous, get to a medical facility, Antivenom is the only poisonous snake bite treatment that’s been shown to help. Experts recommend getting it within four hours, but it sometimes can help days afterward. Get to a facility that has it ASAP.  This may mean calling in a helicopter, or having someone hike out for one. If the bite victim has to walk out, make a crutch out of a limb, and have the person drink as much fluid as they can along the way. All that swelling that can occur around the bite can dehydrate a person fast.

Even if the victim can stay put while waiting for the helicopter, they should drink a lot of fluids, if they can hold them down without vomiting. They should even drink on the way to a facility.

Snake-bite treatment don’ts:

  • Don’t cut into the marks. It doesn’t help and likely will cause a worsening infection.
  • Don’t try to suck the poison out, even with instruments made for such. It wastes time and hasn’t been shown to help.
  • Don’t apply ice. It can damage the tissue further.
  • Don’t use a tourniquet. It damages tissue, and when it’s released you can get a sudden surge of poison.
  • Don’t try to catch the snake. You waste time and risk getting bit. Remember, a snake can strike a distance of half its body length, and the bite reflex can last up to ninety minutes after the snake is dead.

If you can’t get to a medical facility:

  • Clean bite marks with soap and water.
  • Keep the bitten extremity at the same level as your heart. If you keep it too high, you might be sending the venom faster to your heart. If you keep it too low, you might aggravate swelling.
  • Take pain medicine if you have it—anything from ibuprofen or acetaminophen to opiates like codeine or morphine.
  • Start IV fluids, if available.
  • If an open wound develops, treat as suggested in past posts.

If you’re bitten by a vampire, I’d suggest staying out of direct sunlight.

Photo by Kimberley French. © 2010 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.