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Snakebites in Children

What are snakebites in children?

A snake can bite a child in many kinds of outdoor places. In some cases, the snake’s venom can be poisonous.

Both venomous and nonvenomous snakes can bite. In the U.S., snakebites most often occur between April and October. Even a bite from a nonvenomous snake can cause an infection or allergic reaction in some children.

Treat all snakebites as if they are venomous. Take your child to a hospital emergency room as fast as possible.

What snakes cause the most snakebites in a child?

Snakes usually only bite when provoked. This can happen when a child accidentally steps on a snake.

Only about 20 types of snakes in the U.S. are venomous. The most common venomous snakes are:

  • Rattlesnakes
  • Copperheads
  • Cottonmouth (also called water moccasin)
  • Coral snakes

Of those, rattlesnake bites cause most of the venomous bites in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of snakebites in a child?

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of snake, amount of venom injected, and size and general health of the snakebite victim. Symptoms may not appear right away.

Symptoms at or near the bite may include:

  • Fang marks in the skin
  • Swelling that may spread within hours
  • Severe pain, burning, and warmth
  • Redness and bruising
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes)

Symptoms affecting the body may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A lot of sweating
  • Fever or chills
  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting
  • Trouble swallowing, increased salivation or drooling
  • Numbness and tingling, especially in the mouth 
  • Trouble breathing
  • Confusion and feeling anxious
  • Weakness

How are snakebites diagnosed in a child?

Healthcare providers will ask many questions and examine your child. It's important to find out what type of snake bit your child. This will help with treatment, especially if your child needs medicine called antivenin (also called antivenom).

How are snakebites treated in a child?

When a snakebite occurs, you should:

  • Remain calm and reassure your child.
  • Move the child to a nearby safe area, away from the snake.
  • Call 911 for emergency help right away. Then call your local poison control center 800-222-1222
  • Have your child lie down and try to stay still.
  • Keep the bite area still and lower than the heart.
  • If possible, wash the area with soap and water right away and cover the bite with a clean, dry, dressing.
  • Remove all rings, watches, and tight clothing in case of swelling.
  • So that you can tell the emergency room staff, remember:
    • The time that your child was bitten
    • Details about the snake, such as its color, size, and markings
    • Have someone write the information down so you won't forget it
  • If possible, draw a circle on your child's skin around the affected area.
  • Don't give your child anything to eat or drink.
  • Don't use a tourniquet.
  • Don't suck out the poison.
  • Don't apply ice to the wound.

Your child's healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for your child. Treatment may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Antivenin for a venomous bite. This is medicine that helps to reverse the effects of the poison. It should be given within 4 hours when possible. It does not usually work if given more than 12 hours after the bite.
  • Medicine to reduce pain
  • Antibiotics for infection

What are possible complications of snakebites in a child?

If untreated, the following may occur:

  • Damage to the skin and tissue in the area of the bite
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart, lung, and kidney damage
  • Shock
  • Death

What can I do to prevent snakebites in my child?

Some snakebites may be hard to prevent. But you can take steps to reduce your child's risk. These include:

  • Teach your child to leave snakes alone. Teach them not to poke snakes with sticks or get close to them.
  • Make sure your child stays out of tall grass unless they wear thick leather boots.
  • Teach your child to stay on paths when hiking or walking in the woods.
  • Don't allow your child to reach into tall grasses or other places snakes may be. Tell your child not to pick up large rocks or firewood.
  • Make sure your child knows to watch for snakes when climbing on rocks.

If your child spends time in wilderness areas, such as campgrounds or hiking trails, make sure an adult on hand:

  • Knows how to identify venomous snakes
  • Makes sure there is transportation and medical help available in case of emergency

Key points about snakebites in children

  • Treat all snakebites as if they were venomous and get to a hospital emergency room as fast as possible.
  • Be aware that rattlesnake bites cause most of the venomous bites in the U.S.
  • Know the type of snake that bit your child. This information is important for treatment. Write down details about the snake, such as its color, size, and markings, so you won't forget it.
  • Call 911 for emergency help right away. Medicine called antivenin should be given within 4 hours when possible.
  • Teach your child to leave snakes alone.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s healthcare provider after office hours, and on weekends and holidays. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.