Professionals offer snake-bite advice

Fran Brownell
Pratt Tribune

Summer and snake bites don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but Logan Shoup, district wildlife biologist for Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism in Pratt and Dr. Eric Clarkson, Pratt Family Practice physician and medical director for Pratt Regional Medical Center Emergency Department, said that in light of a few reports of snake-involved interaction, proper advice was warranted.

A snake waits motionless in the shallow water of the Smoky Hill River near Salina. [SALINA JOUR-NAL/FILE PHOTO]

“The big thing to remember is that, ninety-nine times out of 100, snakes in Pratt, Stafford and Kiowa Counties are going to be harmless,” Shoup said. “The snakes that we do have are a vital part of the eco-system, serving as prey for hawks, falcons and occasionally eagles. They are also predators of rodents and small animals.”

Shoup said Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita has “A Pocket Guide to Kansas Snakes” available for free download as a PDF from Center’s website,

“The Western Massasauga Pit Viper is the most common rattlesnake in the Central Plain area.” Shoup said. “And it’s not common around here at all. In fact, I’ve never seen a Western Massasauga Pit Viper in Pratt, Kiowa or Stafford Counties.”

A rattlesnake was reported in Bucklin several weeks ago and removed from a neighborhood by the Ford County Sheriff’s Department. 

In the event of a snake bite, Dr. Clarkson said first action taken should be to remove the patient from the snake’s territory.

“Attempt to identify the snake only if it is safe for the patient and the rescuer, and if it will not delay transport of the patient to definitive medical care,” Dr. Clarkson said.

Snake parts should not be handled directly, Dr. Clarkson said, because the serpent’s bite reflex may remain intact and would permit further biting. 

Dr. Clarkson suggested a digital photo taken at a safe distance could be helpful in identifying the snake’s species.

“For bites in or around Pratt or in south central Kansas, this is less important as any poisonous snakes around here would be in the rattlesnake family which is a species of pit viper and the antivenom used is the same for all pit viper bites,” Dr. Clarkson said.

As a safety precaution, if there is concern that the snake bite might be venomous, jewelry should be removed from the infected area and footwear can also be removed, Dr. Clarkson said.

Also, if there is concern the bite might be venomous, the patient should not be allowed to walk because exertion and local muscle contraction may increase snake venom absorption, Dr. Clarkson said.

“Do not manipulate the wound except to permit gentle bandaging,” Dr. Clarkson said.

A quarter of venomous bites are dry, where the snake chooses not to inject any venom, so any cutting above the bite or tourniquet will likely just cause more tissue injury or infection, according to Dr. Clarkson.

“In general, we are not seeing a lot of snake bites,” Dr. Clarkson said. “The odds that you will be bit by a venomous snake in our area are very low. The most important thing is to come to the ER as soon as possible if bit by a venomous snake.”

Mayo Clinic with major campuses in Rochester, MN, Phoenix, AZ and Jaksonville, FL, posted information on the clinic’s website describing most venomous snakes in North America as having eyes like slits and  with triangular heads and having fangs, the exception being coral snakes, which have a rounded head and round pupils.

Non-venomous snakes typically have rounded heads, round pupils and no fangs, according to the Mayo Clinic website information.

Dr. Clarkson said that for non-venomous snake bites, tetanus can be a concern, so it’s good to be sure your tetanus booster is current or take action to get the vaccination as a precaution.

“We do usually use any puncture wound as an opportunity to ask and update tetanus vaccine,” Dr. Clarkson said.

He reiterated that it is never advisable to put a tournquet above or below a snake-bite wound. Nor is it advisable to apply ice. Staying calm and getting to an emergency room is the best course of action.