Although there are quite a variety of snakes found in the United States, there are only two, the bite of which is attended with danger. That of the "rattlesnake" (Crotalus horridus), and the "copperhead" (Ancistrodon contortrix).
Symptoms.—The rapidity of infection from a snake-bite depends upon the way the venom is introduced. Thus, if the bite be in the subcutaneous tissues, the poison is more slowly absorbed, and a longer time is required for the characteristic symptoms; but if a vein be penetrated in the biting, the symptoms are noticed in a few moments. If taken by the mouth, as in sucking the poison from the wound, the poison is said to be harmless, unless there be an abrasion of the mucous surfaces of the digestive tract.
Upon inoculation of the poison, severe pain takes place in the wound, and the parts rapidly become swollen, tender, and discolored. Constitutional symptoms early develop and great prostration ensues; the pulse is small and frequent, the pupils are dilated, a cold sweat appears, there is nausea and vomiting, and the patient staggers when attempting to walk. Death may occur in ten or twelve hours.
Treatment.—In 1871, Dr. H. C. Myers began the use of echinacea for the venom of the rattlesnake. The Sioux Indians had successfully made use of the scraped root for rattlesnake-bite, and Dr. Myers began investigating the action of the drug. So favorably was he impressed with its efficacy, that, after collecting several hundred cases of recovery in man and beast, he began experimenting upon himself. He injected the venom of the rattlesnake into the first finger of his left hand; the swelling was very rapid, and in a few hours extended to the elbow. Six hours after the introduction of the poison, he took a teaspoonful of the tincture, bathed the parts thoroughly with the same agent, and went to sleep. Five hours later he awakened free from pain, and a disappearance of the swelling.
In the absence of echinacea, whisky is usually freely given. No matter what agent be used, it is a good plan to extract as much as possible of the poison by sucking the wound and spitting out the poison, though there is but little danger from swallowing the virus, if the mucous surfaces are not abraded.
Echinacea has been successfully used in the bites of the tarantula and other venomous insects, and no doubt would be equally successful in poisoning from the bite of the copperhead.
The Eclectic Practice of Medicine, 1907, was written by Rolla L. Thomas, M. S., M. D.