Snake Bite Kits: Do They Help Or Hurt?
The idea seems like a good one in theory, but are snake bite kits a helpful way to minimize the potential damage or are they a harmful con that causes people to spend money on equipment that actually makes the overall situation worse?
As someone who has a pretty strong fear of snakes, and my brother shares the same fear (he almost stepped on a large rattlesnake during a drought year in Iowa – that sticks with you), we are the type of targets for a product like this. So are they worth getting or are they more scam than safety kit?
While there are many anecdotal stories about how these kits have helped save lives, but there are always anecdotal stories – what’s the truth behind them? There are plenty of people who swear that snake bite kits work, but this Wall Street Journal online article suggests otherwise.
Despite the claims of companies like Sawyer that produce many of these snake bite kits, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that snake kits are not a great idea for treating a venomous snake bite, and in fact might even make the overall situation worse.
Important Note: If you’re going to skim through the article or read nothing else, please view the absolute last video in this article, the one on “How to treat a snake bite” at the end of the In Conclusion section of this article. While we’re committed to showing every possible side of an argument, this is too important a topic to not get to that last expert video, which lays out the best argument we’ve ever seen on this topic.
The Case For Snake Bite Kits
There are a few examples of stories that purport to show that snake bite kits helped save a person’s life after they were bit by a snake. Most of these stories come secondhand from hunting forums, or there is the heavily publicized case online that has appeared on The Blaze and YouTube talking about the case of Chad Cross in Alabama and how he was bitten by a rattlesnake while out hunting before treating himself with a snake bite treatment kit.
The story goes that he immediately took out a snake bite kit and used it for ten to fifteen minutes to extract as much venom out of the bite wound as possible. After this self-treatment in the wild he managed to get out of the woods and drive to the doctor where he could then receive the necessary anti-venom to stop (or at least curb) the worst effects of the rattlesnake venom. The doctor is said to have praised the snake bite kit, telling bite victim Chad Cross that the treatment using the snake bit kite almost certainly saved his life.
This is the one story that comes up again and again when looking for examples of where these kits might have done some good. However, you still need to see this story as anecdotal in nature because assuming this story is 100% true, that is one doctor’s opinion and that could be based on incorrect belief or old ideas of treatment.
The Case Against Snake Bite Kits
The case against using snake bite kits is much, much stronger. In fact, even some basic first aid treatments I learned from my days in Boy Scouts seem to no longer apply. For years we were taught to never put on a tourniquet, but to still have a constrictive band a few inches above the bite area to help slow the spread of venom. Most first aid classes now teach that this is incorrect.
Snake venom bonds with the blood almost immediately, and people are often surprised to learn just how fast blood moves through the entire human body. This means that once the venom is in, no matter how fast you break open that kit, the venom is already in the blood, in the tissue, and it’s not just sitting there. In theory the suction won’t do any good at that point, which is something basic testing on multiple occasions has seemed to confirm.
The evidence seems fairly overwhelming that snake bite treatment kits don’t work – at least not for that specific use. While generally not a scam, they’re still ineffective and possibly harmful treatments for a life threatening situation. We’re definitely about the effective prevention side of things.
A short list of articles that agree with this point of view going against snake bite kits include:
- Snake bite kits by Sniff Outdoors
- The excellent Wall Street Journal Article (Again)
- Herpetologist (and TED talk guest) specialist’s complaint
- Simple article brings the point home
Perhaps Useful For Insect Stings
The overwhelming amount of evidence seems to indicate that these kits are a terrible idea for treating a venomous snake bite. That being said, there is one area where they might actually be useful as a legitimate first aid or survival treatment: removing stings or stingers.
For individuals who are allergic or tend to react to bee stings, getting stung multiple times even in the arm or leg can be a really serious issue, and one of the best things they can do is make sure to remove the stingers and the venom that is attached with/around them.
While we need to point out this isn’t the stated use for most of them, although there are some suction kits out there that do advertise themselves as being multi-faceted, generally speaking the suction technique is going to work better for forcing out stingers or small foreign objects than for snake venom. You still want follow up first aid materials to help take care of the resulting open wound, since infection can still be an issue.
Those of us (Shane speaking here) who tend to be bleeders who don’t like to clot also need to patch up every cut or gash. For us it doesn’t take that much to hit some pretty serious blood loss, and it is just a good idea in general to fix up each injury as you get it. Once again, maybe okay for helping to take out insect stingers but with snake venom it’s not the right treatment.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not an expert when it comes to this type of equipment, but I find the following video really informative. While I’ve found plenty of information (and some really crazy videos) showing the benefits of anti-bite snake boots and snake proof gaiters, I can’t find the same level of evidence for snake bite kits. That’s also the big reason we haven’t linked to any snake kits in this article. We feel confident in recommending (and thus being affiliates for) snake proof boots and gaiters but we want to always do our best to keep our readers safe and prepared, and in the end we’re going with the experts who say these snake kits don’t work.
As for stories of “So-and-so used them and lived after a snake bite,” this interview with an expert even explains those situations. Please watch this last video, watch your step, and be safe out there!
Great Expert Video On Snake Bite Venom Extractors