Avoid whiskey for snake bites (1910)

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From Snake Venoms, by Hideyo Noguchi (1909)
From Snake Venoms, by Hideyo Noguchi (1909)
This is an article from more than 100 years ago, presented only for its historical value. To find the most current advice, please visit the CDC website for their factsheet: How to Prevent or Respond to a Snake Bite.

Avoid whisky for snake bites: Article from 1910

Be it remembered always that death following snake bite is not necessarily the same thing as death from snake bite. Error in treatment plays no small part in vitiating the statistics. For “error” read “whisky.”

Whoever is primarily responsible for the hoary superstitions that liquor is huge doses is useful in snake poisoning has many a life to answer for.

Apart from any adventitious aid whatsoever, whether from a snake or any other source, a whole bottle of raw whisky forced down the throat of a man unaccustomed to alcohol is pretty likely to kill him, and is absolutely certain to cause grave poisoning.

Add to this that it is given, often, in such a manner that the reaction from it comes contemporaneously with the heart collapse caused by the venom, and a telling commentary upon the method is suggested.

It is a question whether alcohol should ever be given in such cases without the advice of a physician. Certain it is that it should not be poured into the victim in quantities limited only by the flask contents of the bystanders.

Rattle Snake Water Viper Chicken Snake

Let me make one point clear. While the venomous snakes of this country are by no means “deadly” in the ordinary sense of the term, their bite is always serious, both in its immediate effects and in the possibility of after-effects.

The bitten person should get to a physician at once. The immediate treatment is prompt incision and sucking of the wound. Permanganate of potash for rubbing into the bitten place should always be carried by persons traveling in a snake-infested country.

If the bite is on a limb, a light ligature will check the spread of the venom. Use whisky sparingly, if at all, and then only in case of complete collapse.

The local treatments are most effective while the venom is still around the site of the bite, and will reduce the injurious effects considerably. But after half an hour or so the absorption of the venom becomes more general and the local treatments ineffective.

When the venom once enters into general circulation, no chemicals or medication can neutralize its effects, except a specific antivenin, such as has been prepared by Dr Noguchi at the Rockefeller Institute in New York.

Antivenin is the only antidote that can counteract the action of venom anywhere in the body. It finds the venom wherever it is present and neutralizes it there, without producing any ill effects on the system.

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