Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Overview Incidence Risk Factors Symptoms coral snakes pit vipers Evaluation Treatment questions for doctor specialist Home Care pain control warning signs Prevention Outlook Underlying Cause coral snakes pit vipers

Venomous Snakebite Underlying Cause

Causes of snakebites include:

  • Venomous snakes:
    • Pit vipers
    • Coral snakes
  • Non-venomous snakes

Venomous Snakebite Coral Snakes

There are only 2 species of coral snakes in the United States. They are small snakes with distinct, bright red, yellow, and black rings.

Coral snakes may produce a very small bite, because they chew the victim instead of injecting venom with long fangs. Very small amounts of coral snake venom can cause severe symptoms. Coral snake venom is toxic to the nervous system, where it blocks impulses from the nerves to the muscles. Coral snakes are most prevalent in the Southeast, particularly in Florida.

Venomous Snakebite Pit Vipers

Pit vipers include:

  • Copperheads
  • Cottonmouths
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Pygmy rattlers

Identifying characteristics of pit vipers include:
  • An indentation, or pit, halfway between the snake's eyes and nostrils
  • Retractable fangs
  • Vertical pupils
  • Arrowhead shaped head

Pit viper venom injures the tissue near the bite and damages blood vessels, causing:
  • Destruction of red blood cells
  • Bleeding
  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle damage

Last Updated: Jan 4, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Venomous Snakebite References
  1. Dart RC, Hurlbut KM, Garcia R, Boren J. Validation of a severity score for the assessment of crotalid snakebite. Ann Emerg Med. 1996 Mar;27(3):321-6. [8599491]
  2. Dart RC, Seifert SA, Boyer LV, et al. A randomized multicenter trial of crotalinae polyvalent immune Fab (ovine) antivenom for the treatment for crotaline snakebite in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Sep 10;161(16):2030-6. [11525706]
  3. McKinney PE. Out-of-hospital and interhospital management of crotaline snakebite. Ann Emerg Med. 2001 Feb;37(2):168-74. [11174235]
  4. Morandi N, Williams J. Snakebite injuries: contributing factors and intentionality of exposure. Wilderness Environ Med. 1997 Aug;8(3):152-5. [11990155]
  5. Pantanowitz L, Guidozzi F. Management of snake and spider bite in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 1996 Oct;51(10):615-20. [8888039]
  6. Terry P, Mackway-Jones K. Towards evidence based emergency medicine: best BETs from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Antibiotics in non-venomous snakebite. Emerg Med J. 2002 Mar;19(2):142. [11904264]
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