FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Most snake bites occur when a snake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.
Rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperhead snakes are responsible for the overwhelming majority of venomous snake bites, and all three are indigenous to the Fort Rucker area.
Although most snakes are not aggressive and will slither away at the first hint of human presence, people should still take precautions to lessen the chance of being bitten – particularly in wooded areas around lakes or ponds.
MITIGATING THE HAZARD
Here are some tips to help mitigate the hazard of incurring a venomous snake bite.
• Use the buddy system when walking or running on trails near wooded areas.
• Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see.
• Wear over-the-ankle boots, thick socks and long loose pants, especially when venturing off of heavily used trails.
• Tap ahead of you with a walking stick before entering an area where you can't see your feet. Snakes will try to avoid you if given enough warning.
• When possible, step on logs and rocks, never over them as you may surprise a sheltering snake.
• Avoid walking through dense brush or blackberry thickets.
• Be careful when stepping over a doorstep. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
• Avoid wandering around in the dark. If you are out at night, always use a flashlight, because most snakes are active on warm nights.
• Never try to pick up a snake, even if it is dead. A snake's reflexes can still cause the snake to strike up to an hour after it has died.
• If you have an encounter with a snake, give it the right-of-way. Do not attempt to kill the snake, just move out of the snake's way.
• If you encounter a snake in the housing area or in your yard, call the police desk at 255-2222 and follow their instructions.
• If you hike often, consider buying a snake bite kit – available from hiking supply stores. Do not use older snake bite kits, such as those containing razor blades and suction bulbs.
WHAT TO DO IF BITTEN
Despite taking all safety precautions, we cannot completely eliminate the hazard, so it is a good idea to have a plan about what to do in the event you, your child, or a buddy is bitten by a snake.
When it comes to treating a venomous snake bite, the most important thing to do is get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Call 911 (see NOTE below). While waiting for help, you may call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or administer the following first aid measures:
• Keep the person calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. Restrict movement. Immobilize the site and keep it below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
• Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell. Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
• Bring in the dead snake only if this can be done safely. Do not waste time hunting for the snake, and do not risk another bite if it is not easy to kill the snake. Be careful of the head when transporting it – a snake can actually bite for up to an hour after it's dead.
• If you have a pump suction device (such as that made by Sawyer), follow the manufacturer's directions.
WHAT NOT TO DO
* Do not allow the person to become over-exerted. If necessary, carry the person to safety.
* Do not apply a tourniquet.
* Do not apply ice or cold compresses to a snake bite.
* Do not cut into a snake bite with a knife or razor.
* Do not try to suck out the venom by mouth.
* Do not give the person stimulants or pain medications (to include as aspirin) unless a doctor tells you to do so.
* Do not give the person anything by mouth.
* Do not raise the site of the bite above the level of the person's heart.
Note: When you call 911 from a cell phone, the call often goes to a regional center. Immediately tell the call-taker which city you’re calling from and the type of emergency. Even better, prepare ahead of time by recording local emergency numbers into your cell phone. Fort Rucker’s emergency number is 255-2222.
For more information about poisonous snakes in Alabama, go to:
http://www.outdooralabama.com/watchable-wildlife/Watchablearticles/isthatsnake.cfm or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/snakes/default.html.