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"Snake Bite" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following article was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 19, February 25, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


a. General

Poisonous snakes are found throughout the temperate and tropical areas of the world, though the species to be encountered vary greatly on the different continents. Examples are the rattlesnake of North America, the fer-de-lance of Central and South America, the viper or adder of Europe, the mamba of Africa, the cobra of southern Asia, and the tiger snake of Australia. The danger of suffering a snake bite is greatly overemphasized, since these reptiles usually will not attack man unless disturbed. Such danger is probably greater in certain parts of the United States than in any other part of the world, with the possible exception of India and Burma. Unless one has some knowledge of the habits and habitat of snakes and is searching for them, they are infrequently encountered in ordinary travels.

In case of snake bite, it is important to kill the snake and have it examined, if possible. There are several different types of snake antivenom, and if the snake is identified it is much easier to select the proper type of antivenom for the treatment of the bite. The presence of an undigested or partially digested "ball" of food in the snake's stomach may indicate the amount of venom injected into the victim when the snake struck. When a venemous snake kills, a part of the venom is used up; thus, the presence of a visible food ball in the stomach may mean that the snake's poison sacs were relatively empty at the time of biting the victim, and therefore that probably only a small amount of venom was injected.

b. Precautions

(1) Wear boots when walking in snake-infested areas.

(2) When possible, remain on trails.

(3) Avoid the careless touching of shrubs, brush, trees, tree branches, etc., or walking near ledges where snakes may be hiding.

(4) In some areas, snakes may prefer dark, warm places for rest, and may crawl into shoes, clothing, or luggage. This is especially characteristic of the cobra in the Far East. Such articles should be examined carefully before use.

(5) If bitten by a snake the following procedures are recommended:

(a) Immediately apply pressure or tourniquet (rubber tubing, belt, string, piece of shirt, vine, or weed) above the bite--no tighter than a snug garter--to stop return of the venous blood toward the heart. The tourniquet should be released for a few seconds every 10 to 15 minutes to prevent gangrene.

(b) Under field conditions and in the absence of medical care, do not make an incision, but instead place a piece of rubber dam three or four inches square over the site of the fang punctures, and by vigorously sucking and kneading with the teeth, remove as much venom as possible during a period of 5 minutes. The rubber dam will prevent sucking the venom into the mouth. Wash the wound and the rubber dam, and repeat the sucking and kneading at regular intervals, while removing the patient to the nearest medical officer or other physician.

(c) Kill the snake and take it to the physician for inspection.

(d) Whiskey or other alcoholic drinks should not be given.

(e) As far as possible, keep the patient from exerting himself, for exertion will increase blood flow and thus cause more venom to be absorbed.

*Prepared in the Office of the Surgeon General.


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