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Warm weather brings out campers, hikers, gardeners and other people who love the wide open spaces. But humans are not the only creatures drawn out by the warmth and sunshine. Summer is the time of year when snakes begin their mating season. Every year hundreds of people are bitten by snakes. Some snakes are harmless enough, while others carry a venomous bite that when left untreated can be deadly. Most of North America's snakes are pit vipers such as the rattlesnake, cottonmouth and copperhead. Pit vipers can be recognized by their triangular heads and slit like eyes. Of these, only the rattlesnake gives warning when you are approaching by shaking his segmented tail. The pit viper has fangs to inject its poisons which will usually leave two puncture wounds in its victim. Occasionally only one puncture will be found when a pit viper bites. This happens when one fang is missing.

The other North American venomous snake is found in the southeast and westward to Texas. This is the coral snake. It has a blunt head, black snout and a body that is red banded by black and bright yellow. When the coral snake bites it will leave a horseshoe shaped pattern of small tooth marks. Most snakes can be found in rocky or brushy areas, swamps, around abandoned buildings, in flower beds and area of thick foliage.

When you think you or someone who is with you has been bitten it is critically important to keep calm. If possible the victim should be very quiet and lay down. Any activity will speed up the the spread of the venom. The area or limb that has been bitten should be immobilized and should rest at heart level if possible. Since the victim should be gotten to a hospital as quickly as possible for treatment you may find it necessary to carry them. If they must walk, take it very slow. Call ahead if you can and describe the snake that bit the victim. Do not give the victim alcohol, medication or sedatives. The victim will show symptoms of swelling, severe pain and dark discoloration around the bite area. If the snake was a coral snake its venom will attack the nervous system causing nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, paralysis, blurred vision, drooling, slurred speech, drooping eyelids and shock.

If medical help is one to two hours away and the bite was not administered by a coral snake, you should attempt to give treatment yourself. Using a belt, tie, strip of cloth or what ever is handy, wrap the limb close to the bite but between the bite and the victims heart. This will restrict the spread of venom. Make sure the bandage is loose enough to slip a finger under it or no tighter than a watch band and that the wound is kept level with the heart. Using a knife or razor blade that has been sterilized in a flame, make a linear cut through the full thickness of the skin where each puncture mark is located. The venom can be removed with a rubber suction cup, massaging or sucking it out by mouth. Continue removing the venom for at least twenty minutes and then cool the wound with ice or ice water until you can get the victim to a doctor. If you have a snake bite kit, most of the items you will need can be found inside the package. Snake bite kits are readily available at most sporting goods stores and are a handy item to add to a back pack or camping gear.