HOT SPRINGS-Fall River Health Services (FRHS) and Hot Springs Ambulance Services hosted a free snake bite treatment and prevention seminar at the Mueller Center Friday, April 5. 

Based on an estimate from FRHS employees, about 250-300 people were in attendance. 

The event was organized by Tim Ripley, RN, Trauma Coordinator for FRHS. He said the inspiration for the seminar came after a conversation with Darby Cane of CroFab. 

CroFab produces antivenom for North American pit vipers, the family of South Dakota's prairie rattlesnake. 

Cane told Ripley that Fall River County had unusually high snake bite rates compared to the rest of South Dakota. 

With the knowledge of high bite rates, Ripley felt the public should be more informed on safety, prevention and treatment. 

Cane and Ripley were both presenters at the seminar, along with Terry Phillips, Curator for Reptile Gardens, and Jim Bussell, EMS from Rapid City Fire Department.

All four presenters provided unique information on snake bites, but all four also had a unified message on the dos and don'ts of rattlesnakes and their bites. 

They said most rattle snake bites are preventable and generally happen because a person is teasing, harassing or trying to kill a snake. They added that most rattlesnake bite victims are males between the ages of 16 and 25. 

If a snake is encountered, it is safest to leave it be. If a rattle is heard, stop, locate the direction it is coming from and move away from it.

If bitten, here are some tips the experts gave on Friday, 

Do not:

  • try to cut out or suck out the venom. Rattlesnake venom causes hemorrhaging. Cutting a bite will increase the risk of bleeding. Sucking the venom will not remove all the venom and if it did, the venom can cause damage in the mouth. 
  • use a tourniquet. Tourniquets will hold the venom in the envenomed limb. With no circulation and a large concentration of venom, victims risk losing limbs. When removed a large concentration of venom rushes through the body, potentially doing more damage. 
  • use electric shocks to treat snake bites. This is a myth. Electricity does not effect venom. 
  • consume alcohol or NSAID pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen. Snake venom already prevents the blood from clotting, these make it worse. 
  • use ice to try to reduce swelling.
  • bring the snake with you. There is only one venomous snake in South Dakota. Health professionals know what it is. Additionally, the antivenom for all North American pit vipers is the same. Bringing the snake (dead or alive) creates more risk for the bite victim and healthcare providers.
  • elevate the effected area


  • stay calm. 
  • call 911 and get to a hospital. An ambulance or med-flight is preferred as symptoms can be treated on the way to the hospital. Having someone else drive the victim is the next best option. Victims should only drive themselves as a last resort. 
  • call the hospital ahead of time. This gives healthcare providers extra time to prepare. 
  • remove restrictive clothes or jewelry if possible. This can help maintain circulation as swelling occurs. 
  • immobilize the effected limb in the active position
  • avoid movement
  • keep warm

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Philips of Reptile Gardens provided information on rattlesnake behavior and identification during an engaging presentation with live snakes. He informed the crowd of several misconceptions surrounding rattlesnakes. 

He said rattle snakes don't rattle because something is inside their tails. The sound is generated from the sections of the tail clicking off other sections of the tail. 

Additionally, he said rattle snakes can't be aged by the length of their rattle. He also noted they don't always rattle before striking. 

The bull snake is South Dakota's largest snake and most likely to be confused with a prairie rattlesnake. Philips said this is because of the bull snake's mimicry of both the rattlesnake's appearance and behavior. 

Bull snakes have similar coloration to rattlesnakes. Additionally, when threatened they will coil up and flick their tails to look like a rattlesnake. They even adapted the ability to squeeze their heads into a triangular shape to look more like rattle snakes. 

Philips said the easiest way to tell the two apart is by looking at the tail. Bull snakes have pointed tails while rattlesnakes (even small ones) have a round tail. 

Cane of Crofab explained the importance of antivenom and how it's made. He said most healthy adults probably won't die.

However, antivenom is still important to preserving body tissue. If antivenom isn't administered, victims run the risk of losing function in digits and llimbs and/or amputation. 

Antivenom is produced by harvesting antibodies from envenomated sheep. Those antibodies are broken down to produce antivenom. The antibody fragments bind to the venom in the blood stream, rendering it inactive. The inactive venom is then excreted through urine. 

Cane also said the research surrounding "dry bites" (a bite without venom) is iffy at best. Recipients of a snakebite should not assume a dry bite occurred as symptoms can take up to eight hours to manifest. 

Bussell of Rapid City Fire Department listed some expected symptoms of rattlesnake bites:

  • extreme pain
  • rapid breathing
  • shortness of breath 
  • increased heart rate
  • drooling 
  • paralysis
  • drop in blood pressure 
  • swelling
  • vomiting 
  • metallic taste 
  • weakness
  • lazy eye

For more information on snake bite prevention or treatment visit Poison Control's website and search "snake" at www.poison.org

Information about antivenom and snake bites can also be found at CroFab's website, www.crofab.com or by downloading their app SnakeBite911. 

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