Your Health: New advice for treating snakebites

DECATUR, AL (WAFF) - Kirk Mullican is probably one of the few people who can link music to snakes. Several years ago he was collecting snakes for their skins. He thought a copperhead escaped a cage. "Because the top was off the cage, I reached down in to get the skin he had shed and that's when he bit me," he said.

Mullican said the pain was quick and hard. "Just two little incisions and two little drops of blood, but immediately it started pounding," he recalled.

Some pit vipers damage blood and tissue, while the other damages the nervous system.

Dr. Ed Robbins specializes in emergency medicine at the Parkway Campus in Decatur, part of Decatur/Morgan Hospital. He said you have to be careful. "The problem is when you start having more systemic effects. It starts becoming moderate when you start throwing up, have a drop in blood pressure, and then the problem is when you start going into shock or having breathing problems. You end up bleeding all over."

So how do you avoid this? He Dr. Robbins said forget about things you were taught at a young age. "The old philosophy of tourniquets and cutting and sucking the venom is a no. Nowadays, you want to make sure the wound is below the heart--not elevated, but below the heart."

And, he said, limit movement from the victim. "I did not get any anti-venom, because they told me they were afraid the side effects from that would be far worse than the snake bite itself."

That was in 1985, but now Robbins says there is something new. "No longer the old horse serum, but a different type now since about 2000 or so. We have a different type of antivenin that has less side effects."

Doctors say the key here is to get to help, quickly.

Kirk said doctors were about to slice his hand to make room for swelling tissue. But the swelling stopped. And now there isn't even a scar.

Most experts say caution is important. "Even if it's a minor bite and you don't think anything is going to happen, you still have about 4 people a year who die of snake bites," added Robbins.

Kirk still collects snakes, although more carefully. And he did find a use for the bad boy who bit him. "He wound up right here as a pick guard on my guitar," said Kirk.

That "hissing cousin" also became a guitar strap.

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