”There’s A Snake in my Boots!”

September 8, 2015 | Health Advice | By: Naomi Wyatt

snakes40 miles from the nearest medical clinic and hours from the nearest hospital, 3 friends and I were hiking in southern Utah when our laughs turned to silence when Travis suddenly screamed and disappeared from the moonlight.  When we ran to where he had seemingly fallen off the track we found him lying on the ground writhing in pain, holding his leg.  He said he had been bitten by something that attacked him from off the path and vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  Not knowing what it was, I immediately started doing what I had learned just months ago in a zoology class.  I held his leg tight to prevent potential venom from getting back to his heart, and quickly poured water on the wound to wash it off.  I sucked on the wound to try to remove any venom I could before we bandaged it and tried to get him on his feet.  Before leaving the area, we cautiously searched the brush with our lights to look for possible perpetrators to provide better answers when seen by a physician.  It was a long and slow walk back to camp, including carrying Travis for part of the way, but luckily we were able to get him the care he needed as quickly as we could.  This experience several years ago came to my mind when first exploring Rooks County this summer.

Possible bites in Kansas:

Brown recluse spider
How to identify: Although generally non-descript, up close, they can be identified by having only six eyes, while most spiders have eight.  They have also been described as having a violin-like pattern of its non-hairy body.  They are often much smaller than people imagine, and thus overlooked when seen in homes.  They like dark places that are seldom used, especially attics and even inside shoes!
Bite characteristics: The venom in a brown recluse spider bite is extremely toxic, but luckily only a very small amount is injected with each bite.  Nevertheless, due to the toxicity, it will soon cause the area around the bite to become red, often blistering and then turning blue, before ultimately becoming black as it kills the cells and tissue that it envenomates.
Medical care: If you or someone you know thinks they have been bitten by a brown recluse spider, it is always a good idea to be seen by a physician or emergency room that day!  It always helps if you are able to bring the spider in with you, whether dead or alive, to help the physician identify it.  If you are unable to get medical care, or until you are able to, apply ice to the bite area, and elevate it above the heart (there is less concern of venom making it to the heart because so little is actually transferred).  Take Tylenol for pain relief, and avoid strenuous activity, if possible.

Snakes: Poisonous vs. non-poisonous
How to identify:
example: Prairie Rattlesnake
Pupil of eye elliptical (cat-like)
Pit between eye and nostril
Two enlarged teeth (fangs) in front of the upper jaw
Scales on underside of tail in a single row
Non-Poisonous example: Garden Snake
Pupil of eye round
No pit between eye and nostril
All teeth of upper jaw approximately same size
Scales on underside of tail in a double row
Bite characteristics: Bleeding is common from the bite wound, which will often change rapidly, if poisonous.  Symptoms to watch out for include dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, paralysis, excessive sweating, and ultimately, shock.
Medical care: If you or someone you know is bit by a snake, remain as calm as possible.  Avoid strenuous movement, and keep the affected area below the level of the heart (greater amounts of venom are transferred in snake bites).  Use pump suction on the wound if you have access, or remove any venom from the surface of the wound with antibacterial soap.  Clean the wound, and create a splint to restrict movement. If the area around the bite swells up or changes color, it is likely due to a venomous bite, and gaining access to medical care becomes more urgent.

Feral cats
How to identify: Stray cats are domestic cats that are friendly toward humans, but that have lost their home or have been abandoned.  If identified as such, they can readjust to living in a home.  A feral cat is one that has either never lived indoors with humans, or that has lived outside and survived on its own for so long that it is no longer friendly toward humans, and in fact is fearful of them.  Feral cats are unlikely to ever enjoy being an indoor cat if captured, and does not enjoy sitting on laps and being petted.  They are often difficult to tell apart; as a general rule, if you can approach the cat or are able to touch it, it is likely a stray, while feral cats tend to hide from human interaction.  Stray cats also tend to be vocal, meow and “answer” to your voice, whereas feral cats will not purr, beg or even make eye contact with you.
Bite characteristics: There will be a puncture wound, often with bleeding; bruising will likely form, and if infected (and up to 80% of cat bites will become infected), will turn red, hot, and often ooze pus, and you may start running a fever.  Possible complications include cat scratch disease, pasteurella, rabies, and various other infections from the cat’s mouth, or bacteria on your own skin. Signs and symptoms to look out for and require urgent medical attention include, if the bite is on the neck, face or hands, if it was from an unknown cat or known feral cat, you begin to have fevers, blisters, large painful lymph nodes, a spreading rash, headaches or behavior changes.
Medical care: Wash your hands before treating the bite.  Clean with cold water and antibacterial soap; if it is still bleeding, use a clean cloth to apply pressure until bleeding stops.  Apply antibacterial ointment before covering with a clean bandage.  Over the next few days, watch for signs and symptoms of infection, and complications.  If you are able to locate the cat, call animal control so the animal can be tested for rabies (which is very rare in cats).  Contact your doctor and make sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date.


Article By Student: Russell Plowman