Should You Provide CPR to a Snakebite Victim?

Should You Provide CPR to a Snakebite Victim

Some might not know this but sometimes it’s necessary to perform CPR on a snakebite victim. When speaking about Snakebites, the first medical intervention that comes to mind is sucking the toxic venom out before it penetrates deep inside the bloodstream. Although many people immediately think to search for an antivenom, the reality is that most cases don’t even end up with envenomation at all. 

As a matter of fact, out of the estimated 5.4 million people bitten by a snake annually, less than half are bitten by a venomous snake. This is why considering a CPR certification to perform CPR for a Snakebite victim is recommended until the snake type is determined and medical assistance becomes available.

Common Snakebite Symptoms That May Require CPR

Before you react with proper CPR or first aid care, you should first identify the reason behind the emergency situation, especially when it comes to snakebites. Here are some of the most common Snakebite symptoms to be on the lookout for: 

  • Two identical and parallel puncture wounds
  • Swelling, change of color, and itchiness in the Snakebite area
  • Vomiting and symptoms of nausea as well as diarrhea
  • Problems with the vision (blindness, blurriness…)
  • Numbness and paralysis in the area of the face, mouth, and neck, as well as the limbs
  • Inability to continue walking 
  • Increased production of body liquids, such as sweat and saliva
  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Muscle spasm and twitches

Venomous vs. Non-Venomous Snake: How To Tell The Difference?

Out of 3,000 different snake species on the globe, around 600 are venomous. This means that around 80% of the snakes in the world are non-venomous. However, every year in America, out of 7,000-8,000 snakebite cases, at least 5 end up in fatality. 

Here are some of the main differences and possible external patterns and reactions that could tell you if a snake is venomous. 

Snake Color

Though there are not many venomous snakes, differing venomous and non-venomous is always a handy lecture. In nature, there’s one un-written rule – the more colorful and bright the animal is, the more dangerous it is. This also applies to snakes. 

However, there are many case scenarios where the animals have the ability to camouflage and mimic their surroundings, so people might not see the snake before it attacks. 

Patterns On The Snake

As with the color, the same rule goes with patterns – the more complex and colorful, the more dangerous the snake. However, there are examples of similarity which make this thesis unsupported.

For example, both coral snakes (venomous) and scarlet king snakes (non-venomous) have bands of yellow, black, and brown. The tiny difference where the red bands touch the yellow bands in the coral snake alert that this is a venomous snake, but not all are aware of these small differences.  


This is an extremely dangerous method to tell if a snake is poisonous, which is why it’s advised only after the snake is dead, as it can help determine whether or not it is venomous. A venomous snake has a thin vertical pupil, the common “predator eyes” look, while a non-venomous snake has round pupils.

Snakes Head

Venomous snakes usually have a wider head and a tighter neck, which make it appear as if their head has a triangular shape. Non-venomous snakes usually have a round head shape, and it’s hard to differentiate the area where the body and head separate since they’re about the same size. 

Do You Need CPR If You’re Bitten by a Venomous Snake? 

If you’re bitten, there’s a chance you may want a CPR certified person nearby. The snake’s venom enters the body and its bloodstream instantly through the lymphatic system. It can attack either the nervous system or the entire bloodstream. 

This venom contains neurotoxin and hematotoxin, which are extremely strong nerve paralyzers that can cause irreparable damage to the nerves and muscle cells. They disrupt the regular nerve connection, causing paralysis, which usually starts from the head down.

Necrosis in the place where the Snakebite occurred is often because it’s the place where the venom started to enter. This can further trigger the need to amputate or cut off a small part of the tissue in that body area. 

Snake venom has the strong ability to coagulate the blood and, thus, create numerous blood clots, which prevent regular blood and airflow circulation. 

However, previous medical conditions (such as epilepsy or low blood pressure) can additionally cause the victim to collapse and worsen the entire case scenario. According to the WHO, some vulnerable categories, such as pregnant women and children younger than 5 years, have a lower survival rate than other victims. 

How Can CPR Help In the Case of Snakebite? 

Regardless of the fact whether the snakebite was caused by a venomous or non-venomous snake, victims usually collapse after the incident due to anaphylactic shock or a panic attack. This is when a CPR certification comes in handy.

Considering that the emergency response can take somewhere between 7 and 14 minutes, performing CPR on the victim to keep the blood circulation ongoing is crucial, especially considering the fact that a snake’s venom rapidly creates blood clots. 

Performing CPR and ensuring the victim continues breathing will keep the airways open and lower the possibility of the venom completely coagulating the bloodstream, increasing the victim’s chances of survival.

At the same time, if possible, make a small cut in the area where the puncture wounds from the snakebite are by using a clean knife from the first-aid kit. This will decrease the possibility of necrosis and further amputation. It also prevents the venom to travel from the bite area to other organs. 

This first response and CPR in these situations are crucial and sometimes more important than the treatment victims get after the transport to the hospital.

When Should Antivenom Be Considered as Treatment? 

Despite the advanced approaches in the medical field, unfortunately, the production of proper and effective venom for different cases of snakebite is rather challenging. 

This is due to many aspects, such as:

  • The Allocation of Resources for Their DevelopmentAccording to the WHO, most Snakebites occur in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and most of the victims are targeted in rural areas. On the other hand, there are very few facilities that have the ability and capacity to produce an effective antivenom. 
  • Not Enough Data to Estimate the Number of Victims and Antivenom Necessities – Data tells the highest mortality rate of snakebites occurs in South Asia, representing more than 86% of the global snakebite death cases. But the numbers are not even close to correctly representing the full image since most victims in the regions where venomous snakes live don’t make it to the hospital.  
  • Most Manufacturers Produce Antivenoms for their Region or Country – Snakes are usually autogenous species, meaning that they can’t survive in regions other than their native ones. Considering how expensive and almost impossible it is to produce an effective venom, most laboratories only produce antivenoms for their region, based on the resources they have. 

For these reasons, performing CPR is highly recommended until getting to the hospital, where the venom can be tested. Giving antivenom without knowing whether or not the snake is venomous is highly inefficient because it would not only waste precious resources on people that don’t need it, but it can worsen the situation.

Antivenoms also contain similar neurotoxins and hemotoxins, which can cause an irreparable nervous system shock and an allergic anaphylactic shock, further decreasing the survival rate of a victim bitten by a non-venomous snake.

Understanding If You Should Perform CPR On A Snakebite Victim

Snakebites are common, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are deadly. As mentioned, there are around 20% of dangerous venomous snakes in the world, lowering the need to be alarmed when facing this danger.

Nonetheless, a snakebite victim is still in need of aid, especially while waiting for the hospital emergency staff to arrive at the scene. This is why having someone with a CPR certification near by increases their chances of survival.