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Stay Calm: Snake Bites Hurt,But Rarely Kill, Expert Says
No one anticipates being bitten by a snake. But accidents do happen. And with a snakebite, remaining calm is essential, says a University of Georgia wildlife expert.

"If you're bitten by a nonvenomous snake, you can either just do nothing or wash the bitten area with soap and water," said Jeff Jackson, an Extension Service wildlife specialist and a professor in the D.B. Warnell School of Forestry at UGA.

Jackson said sometimes a venomous snakebite can be harmless, too, if the snake didn't inject venom.

"Don't take a chance, though," he said. "If a venomous snake bites you, make reasonable haste to the nearest hospital."

Stay calm, he said, and immobilize the bitten area. "Never cut into the bite," he said, "unless you're a true expert."

Farm workers, children playing outdoors and snake handlers are the most frequent snakebite victims.

Jackson said bites of pit vipers cause intense pain. "They hurt worse than a bee sting," he said. "Coral snakes are an exception. They don't hurt much."

The good news for snakebite victims is that nearly everybody recovers. The U.S. snakebite fatality rate is less than 1 percent. This includes people who refuse treatment.

"In short, very few people die of snakebite," Jackson said. "You are 20 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a snake."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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