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Insider Info: Treating Animal Bites

Outdoor America 2018 Issue 3
Rattlesnake - Pixabay

Everyone who spends time outdoors gets bothered by bugs. While insects won’t really “eat you alive” (at least not here in the U.S.), the itchy welts they cause can make you miserable. Bee stings, snake bites, and bites from rabid animals, while less common, can cause serious illness or death if you don’t respond quickly and correctly. Here’s what to do if something nasty nips you.

Insect Bites and Stings

To get quick relief from most insect bites and stings, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following steps:

  1. Scrape Out Stingers: If a stinger remains in the skin, scrape it out with a fingernail or credit card. Do not pull the stinger with tweezers - squeezing it can inject more venom.
  2. Clean: Wash the area with soap and water.
  3. Cool: Use a cold compress or ice pack and take ibuprofen to reduce swelling.
  4. Soothe: Apply hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or a baking soda paste to the bite several times daily until symptoms abate, which should only take a day or two.
  5. Medicate: Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl®, to help reduce itching.

If a bite or sting causes a more serious allergic reaction - vomiting, hives, swelling of the face or tongue, difficulty breathing - call 9-1-1. If the victim has an epinephrine auto-injector, such as EpiPen® or Auvi-Q®, use it. (An antihistamine will not halt the progression of anaphylaxis.) Loosen any tight clothing and remove jewelry that might be hard to get off later due to swelling. Cover the person with a blanket and don’t allow them to drink. If the person becomes unresponsive, perform CPR until help arrives.

Snake Bites

Most North American snakes are not a danger to humans. However, a bite from a rattlesnake, coral snake, water moccasin, or copperhead can be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clues that a snake bite is venomous include nausea, difficulty breathing, blurry vision, increased salivation and sweating, and numbness or tingling of the face or limbs. Bites from non-poisonous snakes can put you at risk of infection (including tetanus) or an allergic reaction. When in doubt, seek medical attention immediately.

There are many myths about how to treat snake bites. Here are the CDC’s do’s and don’ts:

  • Do remember the snake’s shape and color to help medical experts identify it and determine what anti-venom to use.
  • Do keep the victim still, either sitting or lying, with the bite site below heart level to slow the spread of venom in the body.
  • Do cover the wound with a clean, dry bandage until help arrives.
  • Don’t pick up the snake or try to trap it. You might get bitten too.
  • Don’t apply a tourniquet. It traps the venom in one part of the body, causing more severe tissue damage.
  • Don’t slash the wound with a knife to suck out the venom. It doesn’t work and might cause an infection in the wound area.
  • Don’t apply ice or immerse the wound in water, which stimulates circulation (spreading the venom more quickly).
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages, which increase heart rate and circulation (again, spreading venom more quickly), or alcohol, which can impair judgement.

Rabid Animal Bites

Rabies is an infectious disease that affects the central nervous system. It is almost always fatal if left untreated.

When a rabid animal bites you (or comes in contact with you), the virus that causes rabies can be transmitted to you through the animal’s saliva. First rule: stay away from wild animals!

If you are bitten, you can decrease the chance of infection by washing the area thoroughly with soap and water. Then see a doctor, who can treat the wound and decide whether to start a vaccination regimen based on the species of animal, how you were exposed to it, and the prevalence of rabies in your geographic area.

Lisa Ballard is a freelance writer/photographer and an Ike from Red Lodge, Montana. An avid sportswoman, she gives snakes and potentially rabid animals a wide berth in the backcountry. www.LisaBallardOutdoors.com