Editor’s Note: KXAN was advised by Austin-Travis County EMS that it received guidance you should lay or sit down with a snake bite above the level of the heart while waiting for medical help. This story has been updated to reflect that clarification.
TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County EMS is warning residents Monday after treating a child who was bitten by a rattlesnake at Pace Bend Park in Spicewood. This is the second child bitten by a rattlesnake in the past two days the agency has responded to.
The child patient at Pace Bend will be taken to the hospital by STAR Flight. Pedernales Fire also responded to the call Monday afternoon.
ATCEMS used the incident as a chance to educate locals on avoiding venomous snakes. The agency says to be aware snakes may be in or near water, tall grass, fallen logs, outcroppings, under debris or other objects or in animal burrows.
ATCEMS advises if you see a snake, freeze, then back away slowly. They usually retreat or escape, if given the opportunity. The agency warns against trapping or handling snakes, even if it is dead.
Heavy footwear, snake-proof pants, leggings or boots can also be helpful.
If you are bitten by a snake, ATCEMS says to keep calm and call 911 or seek medical attention immediately. Antivenom is used to treat venomous snake bites, and the sooner it can be administered, the sooner the damage can be stopped.
ATCEMS also says to take a picture of the snake from a safe distance if possible, because it can help with identifying the proper treatment needed.
While you’re waiting for medical aid to arrive, ATCEMS says you can give first aid to yourself using the following tips:
- Remove rings/watches before swelling begins
- Wash bite with soap and water
- Cover bite with clean, dry dressing
- Mark leading edge of tenderness/swelling on skin and write time near it
It also says you should lay or sit down with the bite above the level of the heart. ATCEMS switched its protocols to have the bite above, instead of below, the level of the heart after it learned guidance from envenomation experts changed earlier this year.
Dr. Spencer Greene, director of Medical Toxicology and an assistant professor in the Henry J.N. Taub Department of Emergency Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, explained what a person should do depends on the type of snake:
“For pit viper bites (which account for > 95% of the venomous snakebites in the U.S.), DO NOT PLACE BELOW HEART LEVEL. Almost all pit viper bites cause local tissue injury, and placing the affected extremity below heart level will cause the venom to collect in the extremity and will increase the hydrostatic pressures in the extremity. This will increase the potential damage to lymphatic vessels and increase the likelihood of some degree of permanent injury, such as post-exertional swelling. For copperhead and cottonmouth bites, in which local tissue is highly likely but the likelihood of systemic toxicity is low, I recommend placing the affected extremity ABOVE HEART LEVEL. In rattlesnake bites, it is reasonable to keep the affected extremity AT HEART LEVEL. These variations are for pre-hospital management. Once in the hospital, the affected extremity should always be elevated.”-Dr. Spencer Greene
Learn how to identify venomous snakes in Texas using the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.