Coiled rattlesnake

Stay informed about venomous bites

Residents of the Texas Hill Country are very familiar with our slithering—and at times dangerous—neighbor, the snake. It may seem to Hill Country folks that it’s only a matter of time before an encounter with this beautiful, mysterious, and dangerous creature occurs. Should you have a run-in with a snake, the best plan to stay safe is to be informed and, if necessary, seek proper medical attention.

Dr. Greg Hadden, MD, medical director at Five Star ER in Dripping Springs, says that “the sooner, the better” is always the rule when seeking treatment for a snakebite. “There are a lot of old wives’ tales about ice, shocking, tourniquets, cutting the bite open and sucking it, and even about available commercial remedies. None has been proven to work,” says Dr. Hadden. “The most important thing to have when someone is bit by a snake is keys to a car that runs. Seek medical attention immediately.”

Of the 15 venomous species of snakes in Texas, the four species central Texans most commonly worry about are the western diamondback rattlesnake, blacktail rattlesnake, cottonmouth (also called water moccasin), and copperhead.

One of the most harrowing snakebite stories Dr. Hadden recalls is of a man who had gone fishing with his daughters and encountered a large cottonmouth. The snake was headed under the man’s pontoon boat toward his two daughters as they swam to the opposite side of the boat. Without hesitation, the man grabbed the snake and received multiple bites as his daughters climbed aboard to safety. The man promptly received proper medical attention and ended up recovering fully.

“Talk about a heroic dad! That’s a tough story to beat,” says Dr. Hadden.

Greg Hadden

Photo by Austin Skinner

When a snakebite victim visits an emergency room, medical personnel will immediately assess the wound. After getting the story and information about what kind of snake bit, a doctor will then determine, by drawing blood and observing physical signs, whether antivenin is needed and what further actions are appropriate.

“Some people think it may be helpful to bring the snake into the emergency room, but do not do that!” says Dr. Hadden. “Even dead snakes can still inject venom, and you are putting your family and ER staff at risk. Pictures may be helpful if you can snap a quick shot and not put yourself at further risk for an additional bite; but in general, we will base our treatment on the signs of the bite and on bloodwork.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 7,000 to 8,000 people receive venomous snakebites each year in the United States, some bites packing a greater punch than others. “Baby snakes give all they’ve got because they’re more vulnerable,” says Mike Foux, reptile expert with Austin Reptile Shows. “Bigger snakes sometimes don’t inject venom because they’re not as threatened.”

In any case, the best approach if you come face to face with a venomous snake is to leave it alone. “Snakes never attack—they only defend themselves,” says Mike. That said, “if you see a venomous snake in your house or on your property, call 311 and have it removed.”

To learn more about staying healthy and safe in the Hill Country, visit for information on Healthy Parks, Healthy People events.

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