Snake Bites

Snake Bites Summary
Pet vipers are a family of poisonous snakes, which includes rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins (cottonmouths). Treatment of poisonous snake bites is possible, however, any victim of a venomous snake bite should be evaluated in an emergency medical care facility as soon as possible.
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Introduction to snake bites

Comment on this

Although venomous (poisonous) snakes are relatively common in the U.S., bites from venomous snakes are a rare cause of death in this country. While there are about 8,000 venomous snake bites reported each year in the U.S., no more than 12 deaths were reported each year from 1960-1990 as a result of poisonous snake bites. About half of all reported snake bites occur in children.

Pit vipers are a family of snakes whose scientific name is Crotalidae. This group, which is responsible for most poisonous snake bites in the U.S., includes the rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins (cottonmouths). Within this group, rattlesnakes have the most deadly venom and cause the majority of snakebite-related deaths. Rattlesnakes can be found in both the Eastern and Western areas of the country. In particular, the Mojave rattlesnake has one of the most potent venoms of all rattlesnakes. Copperheads, common in the Eastern U.S., have a milder venom than that of rattlesnakes. Water moccasins live around natural waters in the Southeast; their venom has an intermediate potency between that of the rattlesnakes and copperheads. Coral snakes found in the southern U.S., related to the Asian cobras and not part of the pit viper family, are a rare cause of poisonous snake bites in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of a poisonous snake bite?

Comment on this

Symptoms of snake bites are dependent upon the type and size of the snake, the location of the bite on the body, and the age, size, and health of the victim. Children are more likely to have severe symptoms because they receive a larger concentration of venom due to their smaller body size. Also, not all snake bites involve the discharge of venom into the victim (known as evenomation). At least 25% of poisonous snake bites do not result in evenomation.

Snake venoms are either hemotoxic (causing damage to blood and other tissues) or neurotoxic (causing damage to nerves). The pit vipers, with the exception of some Mojave rattlesnakes, have hemotoxic venom. The extremely potent venom of the Mojave rattlesnake has neurotoxic activity. Coral snakes also have neurotoxic venom.

Pit viper bites often show two characteristic fang marks at the site of the bite. Intense pain usually results at the site within five minutes of the bite, and swelling is common. Other symptoms that may result from pit viper hemotoxin include:

  • weakness,
  • rapid pulse,
  • numbness,
  • tingling sensations,
  • bruising,
  • bleeding disorders,
  • vomiting,
  • an unusual metallic taste, and
  • confusion.

Bites from snakes such as coral snakes and their exotic relatives whose venom is neurotoxic may result in minimal pain and no visible marks on the skin. Instead of pain and swelling, these bites often cause local numbness along with a number of other symptoms including:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Snake Bites - Symptoms Question: If you were bitten by a snake, what were your signs and symptoms?
Snake Bites - Treatment Question: Were you or someone you know bitten by a snake? Describe the first aid and treatment that were received.
Snake Bites - Experience Question: Describe your snake bite experience, including location (yard or desert, etc.) and type of snake, if known.