How to Care for a Venomous Snake Bite Wound

Friday, August 1st, 2014

This post was last updated on September 2, 2016


Summer is the ideal time to enjoy the great outdoors, particularly the picturesque wilderness of western Pennsylvania. Before you begin your trek though, you should know a little about some of the critters, including venomous snakes, you might encounter out there.

Check out this infographic to learn important facts and stats, as well as the do’s and don’ts, about caring for snake bites.poisonous snakes


Poisonous Snakes in Western PA

A weekend camping trip or a hike through the woods might be on your summer-to-do list. But before you brave the great outdoors, are you prepared if you or a loved one has an unfortunate encounter with a snake?

Primary Venomous Snakes Found in Western PA

The primary venomous snakes found in Western PA are:

  • Cottonmouths
  • Massassaguas
  • Timber rattlesnakes
  • Copperheads

The snakes are typically found in underbrush or wooded areas, and occasionally in dark, overgrown domestic areas.  Approximately 75 percent of snake bites by rattlesnakes and copperheads result in envenomation. Envenomation occurs when the venom from the snake is injected into another animal or person.

The best way to avoid snakebites and envenomation is to stay away from areas where the snakes are likely to be found, such as wooded areas. If you do encounter a snake, calmly and quickly turn away and do not attempt to kill, capture, or handle the snake. It is important to note even if you are two to three feet away from a snake, it may bite you before you have the chance to walk away.

Symptoms and Complications of Snake Venom

If you are bitten by a snake, symptoms can include:

  • Pain at the site of the bite
  • Swelling of the affected limb
  • Formation of large, blood-filled blisters
  • Muscle breakdown (in some cases)

Various complications to watch for from venom consist of thinning of the blood, allowing victims to bleed easily from minor injuries. In rare cases the venom causes an allergic reaction, and due to localized swelling, injury to the tissue can result in permanent damage and may require surgical intervention.

What to Do and What Not to Do When Bitten By A Snake

In the event of a snake bite do:

  • Evacuate the area immediately
  • Elevate and immobilize the affected area to prevent pooling of the venom to the smallest parts of the body
  • Call the Pittsburgh Poison Center and/or EMS for evaluation of the bite and possible envenomation
  • Photograph or take notes to describe the snake as this will help determine if the snake was venomous

However, when bitten by a snake do not:

  • Apply a tourniquet
  • Use a venom extractor, which may cause unnecessary additional injury at the site of the bite
  • Attempt to “suck out the venom” which is impossible
  • Apply ice packs, which limits blood flow to the injured areas


In the event you or a loved one are bitten by a snake, please seek immediate medical attention. To learn more about caring for both venomous and non-venomous snake bites or information on other sources of dangerous poisons, please visit the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC website. For emergencies, please dial 1-800-222-1222.


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