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Last weekend at the local army-navy shop I spotted this handy, inexpensive snake bite kit. Poisonous snakes can be found in just about every U.S. state (except Maine; snakes, unlike many Northerners, have the good sense to avoid bone-crushingly cold winters*), and quick treatment is key. According to a venomous snake fact site:

The low mortality rate [of bites] is based on prompt emergency medical treatment and anti-venom availability in areas with large populations of venomous snakes, ie. Southern California, Texas, Florida.

So, if you live in one of these areas, you’re more likely to run into poisonous snakes and to have access to proper treatment — if you’re prepared and make it to the clinic in time.

For $3.95 from the Camping Survival website, you can get a kit that includes “two large high-suction cups for multiple bites, one small high-suction cup for small surfaces, easy to use lymph constrictor, scalpel, antiseptic swab, [and] complete instructions.” However, customer reviews at Amazon practically plead for others to avoid this kit and instead recommend the admittedly safer-looking Sawyer Exractor [What’s This?], which runs around $16.

If you can’t get medical treatment within 30 minutes of the bite, the American Red Cross recommends bandaging the area (not too tightly) a few inches above the bite to slow the venom. Personally, after seeing the pictures of the guy who got bit on the finger and looks like half his upper body has been infected, I’d rather throw down a few bucks and have a kit on hand.

*As a born and bred Yank, I’m allowed to say this.

[Camping Survival]
Sawyer Extractor Street Pricing [Google Products]
Snake Bite Kits Street Pricing [Google Products]

 

19 Responses to Suction Is The Best Cure

  1. Toolhearty says:

    I believe it’s generally agreed amongst medical professionals that these kits are pretty useless. So far as I know, the only recommended treatment for snakebite is an injection of antivenom.

  2. Blind says:

    Everything I’ve ever heard about snake bites was that sucking out the venom does nothing good and doesn’t really help anyone involved. Sure it might get a few drops out, but not enough that will help the victim.

  3. Tom C says:

    Yep, those kits are actually the last thing you should be doing.

  4. JKB says:

    Next time you’re talking to the medical professionals, ask them when you stop CPR. Their answer is always not until help arrives. Ask them, what if help is 10 hours away and they are stumped. It is just not in their normal thought patterns that someone is not close to emergency services. If you are, by all means take full advantage.

    The Sawyer Extractor has been shown in a study that prompt use can remove 35% of the venom of pit vipers. Rubber cups and using your mouth just isn’t going to draw enough suction. You still need to get to the antivenom but the extraction can lessen the dose of poison. If you’re remote, you got about an hour and a half before your carrying the person so walk deliberately to the nearest civilization.

    BTW, Hawaii and probably Alaska will be upset at you saying Maine is the only US state without poisonous snakes. Best to say it is the only contiguous US state without snakes.

  5. Mike47 says:

    I’ve got a problem with this post. Unless the poster is a licensed medical professional, the idea of even suggesting this kit is a good idea is placing the poster and the website in a risky legal position. The kit shown includes a scalpel for incising the bite area, a practice which is specifically recommended NOT to be used, by virtually every qualified medical self-help resource available. Furthermore, if you want to talk about first aid of any sort, it’s a good idea to back up your claims with qualified sources or state a disclaimer.

  6. Mike47:

    Since Toolmonger is a blog (not a medical site) all opinions should be taken as that: opinions. The snake bite kit is something I thought looked interesting, so I pointed out that I had seen it, and made a specific note that it doesn’t come highly recommended. I also directed readers to the Sawyer Extractor that, according to other sources, is considered a better kit.

    The only “official” information I gave was about the location of poisonous snakes and the Red Cross’ advice on treating a bite wound.

    If merely mentioning the kit puts one at risk for litigation, does that mean Amazon and all the online and local retailers should remove them from the shelves in case selling them is considered “suggesting” them?

  7. Shopmonger says:

    Mike47 Says…..Please this is about tools and related items not about medical advice. These have been proven to be effective if it your last resort,(aka your on a long hike into the wilderness, better than nothing) Audra is not saying anything about being a medical advisor, just posting a product for topical conversation. That being said, the boy scouts of America use similar tactics, and so does the US army when there is no other option. Yes most medical professionals will say there are better alternatives IF present. My wife is an infectious disease researcher, and there is not always anti-venom available, and there are hundreds of them to choose from, so you can’t just carry them with you. Try slowing blood down with pressure, NO BLOOD THINNERS, AKA aspirin or Tylenol. (IBUPROFEN OR ACETAMINOPHEN ARE out also so no generics……)….

    Get help is a good idea….

    JKB i would agree that the medical pros would have you do cpr for ever , but ask the right questions, What do i need to know when i am hiking? there are doctors out there who do this hobby also , maybe not your doctor.

    Have a first aid guide on your trip, practice what to do in case these things happen, being prepared is more of a concern than having the right stuff.

    Be Safe and have fun…..
    BTW great article New ideas for old problems = What toolmonger is all about

    ShopMonger

  8. Scote says:

    “Mike47 Says…..Please this is about tools and related items not about medical advice.

    Well, then, if that is the case then posting an outmoded **medical device** would seem inappropriate.

    But, given that the OP **is** about an outmoded medical device then a debate about its merits is inorder, especially since the device in question is an outmoded one based on outmoded theories. While it seems intuitive to suck out the poison with a device, our intuition is does not always correspond with the findings of scientific medicine, which is sometimes counterintuitive. There is some debate as to whether the more efficient suction of the Sawyer pump is helpful in the field or not. But there is no real debate that the cut and suction cup kits in the OP are bad–cutting the bite wound is counterindicated. And, frankly, I wonder why it is even legal to sell these ill advised home surgery kits given that they are counter-indicated.

  9. Alan says:

    Ugh. You can file this with the other antique medical advice – butter on burns, ipicac for poisoning, alcohol for stimulation…

    Cut and suck kits for snake bite have been discouraged for at least 10 years by both lay-training organization and medical responder training groups.

    The state of the art for pre-hospital snake bite is compression wrapping of the extremity from distal (far) to proximal (near trunk) end (ie, on arm from wrist to shoulder). Keep it cool and the victim quiet and head for medical facilities. Mark the time of the bite and time of wrapping in ink on the victim’s skin.

    (As for what JKB says, maybe a dentist might be stumped on that question but anyone involved in emergency or pre-hospital care would tell you to perform CPR as long as possible, rest and repeat until exhaustion or you reach a medical facility. And from what I’ve read, using suction devices can actually force more venom into the circulatory system from the tissues depending on where the bit is located).

  10. Shopmonger says:

    Ok “I wonder why it is even legal to sell these ill advised home surgery kits ” its not surgury…..

    and please explain what you are implying by counter-indicated?
    What would you do,

    it cool and the victim quiet and head for medical facilities and what about when you are a two day hike back to your car, let alone civilization?

    ShopMonger

  11. heywood says:

    One of the treatments they will not tell you in medical journals is to carry a barbecue lighter (electrical spark type) with you at all times in the wild. many (hundreds if necessary) quick shocks from the lighter on and around the area in the first few minutes after being bitten will kill quite a bit of the toxin; it is not a cure but since the venom is made of proteins the shocks will kill the proteins (true it will cause a little tissue damage, but your body can regenerate that; the venom is done).

    Of course, this works best with spider bites as they are more superficial but as a first defense along with cutting blood flow out of the appendage…

  12. Scote says:

    “heywood Says:
    August 24th, 2009 at 7:54 pm
    One of the treatments they will not tell you in medical journals is to carry a barbecue lighter (electrical spark type) with you at all times in the wild. many (hundreds if necessary) quick shocks from the lighter on and around the area in the first few minutes after being bitten will kill quite a bit of the toxin; it is not a cure but since the venom is made of proteins the shocks will kill the proteins (true it will cause a little tissue damage, but your body can regenerate that; the venom is done).”

    There is a reason that medical journals don’t say to use electric shock to treat snakebites: because it doesn’t work.

    You are spreading a dangerous old wives tale. You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss “medical journals” in favor of disproved old wives tales. Please, check your facts before claiming something as important as a snake bite treatment to be true. By not checking the facts before posting false information, you are part of the problem. Here are the Wikipedia citations that specifically prove that to be the case:
    ^ Russell F (1987). “Another warning about electric shock for snakebite”. Postgrad Med 82 (5): 32. PMID 3671201.
    ^ Ryan A (1987). “Don’t use electric shock for snakebite”. Postgrad Med 82 (2): 42. PMID 3497394.
    ^ Howe N, Meisenheimer J (1988). “Electric shock does not save snakebitten rats”. Ann Emerg Med 17 (3): 254–6. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(88)80118-5. PMID 3257850.
    ^ Johnson E, Kardong K, Mackessy S (1987). “Electric shocks are ineffective in treatment of lethal effects of rattlesnake envenomation in mice”. Toxicon 25 (12): 1347–9. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(87)90013-4. PMID 3438923.

    And here are the basic snake bite treatment guidelines from the World Health Organization’s “Guidelines for the Clinical Management of Snake bites in the South-East Asia Region,” which specifically take into account the issues of snake bites which occur in remote areas, far from medical treatment, and the old wives tales/folk treatments that are tried in such circumstances.

    “Aims of first aid
    ••••• attempt to retard systemic absorption of venom
    ••••• preserve life and prevent complications before the patient can receive medical care (at a dispensary or hospital)
    ••••• control distressing or dangerous early symptoms of envenoming
    ••••• arrange the transport of the patient to a place where they can receive medical care (4.2)
    ••••• Above all, do no harm!
    Unfortunately, most of the traditional, popular, available and affordable first aid methods have proved to be useless or even frankly dangerous. These methods include:
    making local incisions or pricks/punctures (“tattooing”) at the site of the bite or in the bitten limb, attempts to suck the venom out of the wound, use of (black) snake stones, tying tight bands (tourniquets) around the limb, electric shock,
    topical instillation or application of chemicals, herbs or ice packs.

    Local people may have great confidence in traditional (herbal) treatments, but
    they must not be allowed to delay medical treatment or to do harm.

    Most traditional first aid methods should be discouraged:
    They do more harm than good !

    Recommended first aid methods
    ••••• Reassure the victim who may be very anxious
    ••••• Immobilise the bitten limb with a splint or sling (any movement or muscular contraction increases absorption of venom into the bloodstream and lymphatics)
    ••••• Consider pressure-immobilisation (Fig 39) for some elapid bites
    ••••• Avoid any interference with the bite wound as this may introduce infection,
    increase absorption of the venom and increase local bleeding “

    You can read more details in the PDF
    http://www.searo.who.int/LinkFiles/SDE_mgmt_snake-bite.pdf

  13. It just occurred to me that Mike47 might have been referring to my title “Suction is the Best Cure” as an endorsement of the product or ones like it. Heh. The title was meant to be a play on “Prevention is the Best Cure” combined with the eye-catching element of an automatic dirty joke the mind may offer up, then dismiss. It means nothing!

  14. Chaon says:

    No no no. Y’all don’t know what y’alls are talking about. If you get snake bit, the first thing you got to do is yell and cuss real loud. Then you check and make sure the bite didn’t damage your favrite tattoo. Them you got to get the poison out. Do this by hanging upside down from a tree branch while taking slugs from a bottle of Jack Daniels. If you still don’t feel good, get your buddy to whack you across the shoulderblades with a canoe paddle a couple’ o times. When you start to see stars, that’s when you know you’ll be fine. ‘Cause snakes and they poison is terrified of canoes. And stars.

    And don’t nobody even try to argue with me about this, because I grew up in central Florida and we know all about nature stuff.

  15. Toolhearty says:

    Chaon Says:
    …get your buddy to whack you across the shoulderblades with a canoe paddle a couple’ o times…

    Amazon is having a sale on Snake Bite Canoe Paddles right now. They must work, there’s a bunch of positive reviews on the site.

    🙂

  16. JKB says:

    anyone involved in emergency or pre-hospital care would tell you to perform CPR as long as possible, rest and repeat until exhaustion or you reach a medical facility.

    A fine answer for those in civilization but not for those in the wilderness or at sea. At some point, you’re endangering yourself and others trying to raise the dead. Exhaustion is not a good thing when you are remote and things are going wrong.

    My point is that much of the expert medical advice is based on the assumption that you are within the response network and not outside where better medical care is hours, if not days away. If you’re inside the network, get to better facilities. If you’re outside, then the Sawyer extractor can improve survivability during the long trek back to the network.

    As to advisability of posting about this item, look at how much information it has generated about a tool still available for purchase. Plus, if your getting your medical advice from a tool blog, I doubt you’re long for this world.

  17. BrianD says:

    Adding to the mix:

    One of the reason so many superstitious cures exist is that snakes do not always inject venom when they bite. We tend to assume that whatever we did to prevent the victim from experiencing the ill-effects of the bite was the answer…

  18. Shopmonger says:

    CHAON Hats off and Beers up…..Nicely Put

    ShopMonger

  19. eosha says:

    I have to address the question of medical care in the wilderness. As a former EMT on a mountain search and rescue team, there is a completely different medical protocol for wilderness situations (generally defined as being 2+ hours from hospital care). There is a Wilderness EMT certification which is different (and more extensive) than a normal EMT.

    The basic notion is that on a normal EMT call, your job is to stabilize the situation until they can get to proper help. Under wilderness protocols, however, the idea is that you may have to not only stabilize but actually treat some problems. Wilderness protocols often allow much more invasive techniques, with the rationale being that although an WEMT is certainly not a doctor, in the wilderness they’re the only person who has a chance of keeping you alive.

    That said, everyone I know has always taught me that with a snakebite you’re far better off spending your time getting to civilization ASAFP than screwing around with the wound.

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