Snakebite Kits … Do They Work?
One of the topics that True North covers in its various wilderness medicine programs, like Wilderness First Aid, is how to properly manage a snakebite. While such injuries are not common, I still feel the need — almost an obligation — to cover this material for two reasons. The first is, even if it’s just a 1:1,000 chance that you or someone else could be bitten, it still remains a possibility, so if it does happen, then you’ll likely be darn happy that I spent the extra time teaching you. But the main reason is that I am routinely shocked by all of the misinformation and hyperbole that abounds (from newspapers to medical journals to first-aid manuals) and the still too common belief in old fashioned treatments and remedies, not just in lay persons, but even healthcare professionals.
For example, big-box outdoor stores still regularly sell, people still regularly buy, and some first-aid manuals still recommend, snakebite kits. The premise sounds logical: if a snake injects venom into your leg, and venom is bad, than sucking it out with a device must be good. Right? One popular product based on this premise is the Sawyer Extractor. As the company explains, its vacuum pump was specifically designed to provide a powerful suction to safely extract venom and poisons, eliminating the need to use dangerous scalpel blades or knives associated with less effective bite kits.
The problem, however, is that research strongly indicates that snakebite kits don’t work. One study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine explains why. To put it into context, consider your last influenza vaccine shot … How easily do you really think that you could suction the medication from the muscle and fat in your arm once injected, especially one or more minutes afterwards? The practical answer is not easily.
So why would the same process work any better when a snake injects his venom into you?
In fact, additional research indicates that attempting to suction snake venom is likely more harmful to you than the initial bite because it could concentrate the hemotoxin thereby causing even more tissue damage.
So before you attempt to help a victim of snakebite, don’t just blindly rely on collective wisdom, what is shown on television, or what you spot on a store shelf. Instead, take a first-aid course, learn the facts, and continue to study.
Would you like to learn more about how to manage a snakebite, or other injury or illness, then consider checking out our Schedule to find an upcoming Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course.