Use a Sawyer Extractor for Snake and Insect Bites

Sawyer Extractor

The Sawyer Extractor is the best first aid application for poisonous snake bites as well as insect bites and stings.  The Extractor is a venom suction system that removes the venom from the victims bloodstream.  The Sawyer Extractor system is also reusable and a definite must have for your Bug Out Bag or other survival gear.

While it is prominently known as a first aid measure for a dangerous snake bite, it is equally effective for relief from mosquito bites or bee stings.

Snake bites are a definite threat in a survival situation and a hospital may not be available, you are going to need all of the help you can get.

From Sawyer:

The Extractor Pump ® Vacuum was designed specifically to provide the most powerful suction available for the safe extraction of venoms and poisons.

Because its Double Chamber Pump action is so powerful you will not need to use the dangerous scalpel blades or knives associated with less effective bite kits. Because it’s a Pump and not a Syringe, it’s easy to use with one hand.

Simply select which of the four plastic cups best covers the bitten area, attach it to the pump, then a simple push of the plunger with your thumb and the Extractor Pump® will quickly and effectively remove venoms and poisons from below your skin. By simply cleaning the cups after each use you may safely reuse the pump over and over again.

Obviously trying to suck the venom out of someones leg, or trying to “bleed them out” is a terrible idea and will do nothing but hurt the victim more. With such a great tool available there is no reason not to have several in your gear.

Specs

The kit comes in a small plastic box that is  5×3 and weighs only 4.8 ounces. They usually run anywhere from 15-25 dollars, but since the system is reusable it is a worthwhile investment. Amazon has the kit for $15.

You can read more about snake bites and uses for the Sawyer Extractor in their Bite and Sting Pamplet (PDF).

Do you have an outdated blade snake bite kit that needs replacing?

Visit our new Survival Gear Store – Forge Survival Supply


{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Chandler Getz March 5, 2010 at 2:40 am

I've really enjoyed your website and it's got a lot of great information. However, I would encourage you to research the true effectiveness of this product. I carried one of these in my first aid kit for years, but was told by an MD specializing in wilderness medicine in a wilderness EMT course that it doesn't work.
This prompted me to do a little research and it seems the MD was correct. There was an experiment published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine (Volume 43, Issue 2, Pages 181-186) which reports that only 2% of total injected venom is removed, which they described as "clinically insignificant". The rest of the fluid seen in the "cup" comes from the patients bodily fluids (blood, plasma, etc.). The report went on to further state that it could increase soft tissue damage, as well as waste valuable time that could be spent on more effective proven treatments.

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Chandler Getz March 5, 2010 at 2:41 am

(Continued – Wouldn't let me put it all in one comment)

I only have a print copy of that article (I'm sure you can find it online, but have included below the link to another source, the Journal of Emergency Nursing, that mentions the same thing. Both of these sources are peer-reviewed and therefore trustworthy.
http://www.jenonline.org/article/PII…9909X/full…
True, it is small and light, so there’s not much drawback to carrying it, but medically, you're probably better off minimizing movement, and applying ice (if available) and pressure and trying to find some sort of definitive medical care.
Sorry to be a pain!
Chandler Getz

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Lucas_SurvCache March 5, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Chandler,

First, thanks for following the site!

Secondly, thanks for your insightful comment. You are not being a pain, and I want reader to tell us things like this so we are no recommending bad gear. You have to keep me honest.

While I have not read those clinical reports myself I have heard about them.

I am certainly not a doctor so I can't really weigh in, however from experience I do know that whatever the studies say the extractor does wonders for mosquito, bee, and wasp stings. Fortunately I have never had to use it on a snake bite.

Finally, the Sawyer company is aware of these studies and they take issue with some of the conclusions drawn. Is that just to protect their product? Maybe, but they have some valid points.

I will post their response below.

Thanks again,

Lucas

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Lucas_SurvCache March 5, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Reponse from the Sawyer Company regarding clinical studies of their product:

from here: http://www.sawyerproducts.com/controversy.htm

"We would like to make you aware of the origins of the controversy regarding the effectiveness of the Extractor Pump® Kit. Several years ago, there was a study conducted which questioned the effectiveness of the Extractor. Unfortunately, the conclusions drawn from the study significantly exceeded the actual data. Let us explain to you what the proper conclusions from the study should have been, what we did learn, and what should not have been over concluded in a subject that is very difficult to study, snake bites.

In the study, a pig was injected with venom in each thigh. On one thigh they applied the pump for several hours. On the other thigh nothing was done. First they concluded that the swelling on both legs was equal, and therefore, the pump must not have removed venom. Secondly, by leaving the pump on so long the pig developed blood blisters. No necropsy (animal autopsy) was conducted to examine difference in internal damage which may have supported benefits of the pump’s usage.

Understanding how a body reacts to an invasion, one should expect to see equal swelling. Given the relative large amounts of venom injected at each site, the body would send fluids whether or not the pump removed venom. The body wouldn't send more to one thigh than the other because it had 10%, 20%, 30% … more venom than the other, both sites had a large amount of venom injected and the body fought them both.

Secondly, leaving the pump on for several hours (we recommend 10 to 15 minutes) should leave a blood blister. Even without an envenomation the pump can give you a heck of a hickey. However at 10 to 15 minutes the pump would remove whatever it is going to get, and any surface damage heals easily compared to structural damage. Ten to 15 minutes is the medical recommendation.

Lastly, few snake bites actually occur in large muscle mass areas such as a thigh or calf muscle. Most are in the extremities (hand, feet, and ankles) where venom is more easily retrieved."

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Chandler March 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm

This has suddenly become something of a hobby of mine and I've been doing a lot of reading on snake bite treatment and the pathophysiology of various venoms. The company does indeed make valid points regarding this particular study. I reviewed this and agree that swelling is a poor way to evaluate the effectiveness. However, the article I quoted in the Annals of Emergency Medicine used an inactive, venom-like substance, marked with a radioactive marker so that it could be distinguished from other fluids, and did this on live, human patients. Basically, they used a snake fang-like syringe to inject a known amount of this substance into people's legs, then tried to use the extractor to suck it back out. They then analyzed the fluids obtained, and determined, using the radioactive marker, what percentage of the obtained fluid was the injected "venom." They found only 2% of the volume of the substance injected was actually recovered.

As for bug bites, the studies seem to support that it does work (Better than Benadryl though?)

Verdict: Good for bugs, not for snakes?

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Brock Tice May 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm

You should really consider encrypting the flash drive, or the data. One thing you can do is make a TrueCrypt drive with the software on it, and an encrypted volume file containing your documents.

Otherwise, if your flash drive is lost or stolen, you’ve just given someone an identity theft starter kit.

The great things about TrueCrypt are (a) it’s open-source, so it’s not dependent on a particular company (and it’s also more likely to be secure, which may seem counter-intuitive), (b) it can be self-contained by using both the software and an encrypted volume file on the same drive, and (c) it employs military-grade encryption. Plus it’s not too hard to use.

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Pat August 13, 2010 at 6:16 am

I can't say anything as to the efficacy of this for bee stings and bug bites but yeah, as far as snake bites go it's a waste of time/money. Snakes that are deadly to humans can inject the venom deep enough that 1) the extractor isn't going to do a good job of sucking it out and 2) it allows the venom to travel through the body very fast meaning that most of it will be dispersed before you can even get the suction device in place and working. Sucking out snake venom (or any venom really) is a complete myth. The only thing you can really do is keep the limb of the bite lowered, calm down as much as possible and get anti-venom as soon as possible.

Frankly in a situation where anti-venom cannot be obtained in a timely manner you're pretty much screwed unless you get lucky and the bite did not inject enough venom to kill you.

The best thing to do is not approach any snakes you see, wear high hiking boots and pay attention to where you're walking. Most people who get bitten are either unaware of their surrounds and do not see the snake or are stupid and approach the snake and try to catch it or touch it. It's also not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the species in your area, of the 50 US states only three do not have native venomous species(Alaska, Maine and Hawaii).

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mattclong September 21, 2010 at 2:18 am

Well, after reading all the comments, I think the next logical questions is; if it doesn't work, what will? Now, a little tidbit I read in Field and Stream years ago said that in the continental US, the two main species we have to worry about are the Copperhead and Rattlesnake (Timber and Diamond Back). The article said the the Copperhead was the easiest to strike but was less likely to give a fatal bite (less potent venom and a more common dry bite). Though this isn't necessarily license to relax, its just a thought to keep if bitten, to help keep a victim calm. But back to the question at hand, in a SHTF situation, how can you combat a bite, is there anti-venom a civilian can stock up on, or other methods to increase survival? I don't ever plan to try it, but old-times used to give moonshine to bite victims, their logic being the 'shine thinned the blood so much and burned so hot in the brain the venom would be diluted enough to be processed with minimal damage. Also, what about spider bites, which I assume would actually be more common in wooded areas (I.E. The Black Widow and Brown Recluse). Is there a treatment for them?

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Noah wood October 9, 2012 at 6:25 am

Black Widows are unlikely to kill you. There is no antivenom that I know of, and most hospitals will give you morphine so you are not awake to feel the terrible effects it has. With the Brown Recluse, you won’t die because if the venom, but it will kill a lot of tissue (even some bone) and will need to be cut out after it has run its course. The most likely thing to kill you is an infection caused by the weakened immune system and dead tissue. I’m not a doctor, but I grew up surrounded by these nasties and had to deal with them on more than one occasion.

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Cory October 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I'm pretty sure you can buy anti-venom, but it's really expensive (since it's so hard to produce) and expires every year or so. This would probably be your best bet, but I read somewhere it needs to be administered correctly (which is difficult?) or it could be worse for you than the bite itself.

Also, even though I've read a lot about these being ineffective, I'm with Lucas on getting rid of that extra 2% (98% poison is better than 100% I suppose).

I've also read interesting stuff on how hitting yourself with a stun-gun at the point of contact will help save you.

Also, when hiking (unless hunting), try to take heavy steps as it will alert snakes you're heading their way. Apparently a lot of bites come from people stepping on a snake they didn't notice. I mean, if I was a rattlesnake and I felt something huge coming, I would starting making some noise.

I suppose the best thing to do would be splurge on the anti-venom and learn how to use it correctly. There's no 2nd chance with fatal bites.

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mattclong October 14, 2010 at 11:24 pm

I've been doing some research and it appears the electricity thing is a myth too. I agree that even one drop less is better and you have to consider the mental effects of using it. In a panic you'll forget all about the facts and WANT it to work. At least then it will help calm you down, which is the most critical thing when bitten.

And actually Cory, most all bites come (believe it or not) from people trying to pick up or mess with a snake. I saw a study done on TV years ago where a copperhead was walked next to, stood on, and picked up with a fake hand and the only time it struck was when picked up. Now that's not saying they won't strike when stepped on but right now the numbers are not in favor of that, SIMPLY because there are SO many idiots out there LOL.

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usnyhockeyguy November 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Matt not to down play how painful a spider bite can be, but on average only 4 people die a year in the U.S. from spider bites. There hasn't been a reported death from a Black Widow bite in the U.S. since 1983. Even before antivenom was created for Black Widows the mortality rate was under 5% and the Brown Recluse is even less then that. So unless you are prone to going in to shock, are a small child, or are very old I wouldn't worry about spiders in this country.

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Roy February 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I know there are a lot of comments here about using the Extractor and related discusssion. I would though like to add my "two cents" here for what it's worth. There are several comments on here that are good information, and some that are not very helpful. Let me start by saying that I have been studying reptiles for more than 40 years, especially venomous snakes. My wife and I ran the Las Cruces Reptile Rescue here in New Mexico for 7 years. We were able to help change/develop the EMT protocol for the treatment of snakebites here in Las Cruces. Previously the standard was for any EMT or emergency personnel to tourniquet any snake bite that occurred prior to transporting to hospital. (continued)

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Roy February 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Seeing as the only venomous snakes in our area are rattlesnakes that are mainly hemotoxic ( as well as the entire lower 48 of the U.S., with the exception of the Coral Snake), I knew this didn't make sense, and was actually downright dangerous. Using an extractor or a tourniquet will actually localize the hemotoxin of a snakebite, keeping the venom near the site of the bite. This places the bite victim at a significantly greater risk of having to have an appendage amputated due to severe tissue/muscle damage to the limb from the hemotoxin. It is far safer to allow the venom to circulate and dilute, rather than localize.

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Roy February 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Also, the remote possibility of removing 1% to 2% of the venom from the bite area pales in comparison to the fact that the increase in risk of the loss of a limb due to localization of the venom is estimated at 25-45%. 1 to 2% difference in the amount of venom isn't going to make any noticable difference in light of the fact that only 1/2 of 1% of snakebite victims in the USA die annualy, and that is out of an average of 8,000 bites every year. The best thing to do is seek immediate medical treatment, but if you're in a position of not being able to seek medical treatment, the best thing to do then is simply remain as calm as possible, and keep the affected limb even with the heart if possible. Do not use alcohol (medicinal or otherwise) and do not attempt electrical "treatment" of the bite. Both can make the situation far worse.

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threehawks March 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I have the Sawyer kit in my pack

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T.Rapier April 9, 2011 at 6:32 pm

More articles on first aid prepping would be a great service . Med/first aid planning is one of the most important things , but also one of the most difficult to decide on what is really needed and in what quantity , especially for the beginner with no military training .

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Seth McConnel May 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Hi all. I just wanted to make a few comments on the safety and efficacy of venom extractors. First, let me say I've been studying reptiles, specifically venomous species, for about six years. The most prevalent snakes in the United States are the Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and the Rattlesnake (genera Crotalus and Sistrurus). Copperhead bites are almost never life-threatening, with only two recorded cases of death in American history, all of which involved envenomations from multiple snakes. A. contortrix also has a primarily hemotoxic venom, which causes severe bleeding. In this instance, use of a sawyer extractor would cause more harm than good, owing to more blood loss.

In the case of rattlesnakes, it's a slightly different story. North American Rattlesnakes have varying degrees of toxicity, but all have venom which is primarily hemotoxic. Again, this will cause blood loss. Using a tourniquet on the limb can also cause more damage, as the venom stays concentrated to that limb, causing necrosis.

Also, venom is spread by the lymphatic system, not the blood. Any attempt to remove venom from the blood is ultimately futile.

Antivenin is the only effective treatment for a venomous snake bite. However, it has a shelf life of only two years, and usually must be refrigerated, except in the case of CroFab and other 2nd generation antivenins. It must be administered via an infusion pump at a rate of no more than 1ml/min, and there must be a support team in place, as antivenin can cause serum sickness, or worse, anaphylactic shock.

In other words, the best field treatment for a snake bite is to get the victim to immediate medical attention. If that is impossible, keep them calm, administer fluids, and manage the pain.

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NilsFranco June 4, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Its Venomous not poisonous (Paragraph 1 Line 2)

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Prep4theDay September 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm

I worked in a Florida ER for 8 years and never heard of any effective treatment given to a snake bite victim before they got to us and our stocks of anti-venin. Honestly, we just didn't get many injuries of that sort and I don't recall any deaths from them.

What we DID get a lot of was spider/insect bites, jellyfish stings, animal bites/scratches and once in a great while a stingray… um… sting. Out of all those things, the biggest problem by far was infection (from the environment, not the toxins).

I got a Sawyer kit in my 1st aid bag (personal use, not professional) but for insect bites not snake bites. It's not that I believe in them, so much as, I try to keep an open mind and wait for research results and to hear experiences from others.

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beenthere4real September 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm

The best treatment is prevention, good high top boots and a good pair of gators wil prevent bites to the ankles and calves, as far as bites on hands go keep them out of harms way. If your bug out area is wilderness or desert a good walking staff is a great tool, use it to push brush out of the way or to check obvious snake hideing spots.

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wantalongername September 15, 2011 at 5:26 am

I got some snakes , who wants to do some research?

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MethanP December 3, 2011 at 4:37 pm

If this kit works, it is the only one that should even be considered. You should never be cutting or sucking it.

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1LT Doe U.S. Army AD February 22, 2012 at 11:58 pm

I have this kit and it seemed to be "to good to be true" when I had purchased it. I figured for the relatively low price tag and little to no other measures that good be taken at a minimum the psychological benefit of administering it to someone who has just been bitten and terrified can actually cause a physiological reaction by slowing the heart rate and blood flow. In some cases this could be useful for venom that does use arterial passageways.

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Mike April 15, 2012 at 9:27 am

I bought a sawyer a while back but from research, I dont think I would use it for a snake bite. Maybe for a spider bite. What I have found, is if possible, get medical treatment, but for those of us that might be in a bug out senerio or hunting or just out walking, is first get away from the damn snake, and always carry a pouch a activated charcoal and pack the bitten area, snake spider bee wasp ect., with weted activated charcoal,( should use some sort of medium to hold it together either water,wont hold together but works, corn starch or even vasoline,) and change every 2 hours. It wont stop any venom already in your system but will absorb any venom in the bite area. This is not a put on and walk away, you still need to stay calm, like other experts have said, but will help more than the sawyer. Works wonders with posions and more. This is in my home and bug out packs. No one should be without.

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Noah wood October 9, 2012 at 6:32 am

I prefer wet tobacco as it has the added affect of calming the person down and slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure et cetera

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_Gearfried_ May 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm

I would have to say that to me, prevention is more important than treatment. High boots with pant legs tucked in prevent exposed skin, decreasing risk of biting. Also, as an idea, I have experience with chainmail. A thin, fine-ringed chainmail would sufficiently stop a snake's fang from penetration. Also, chainmail has many other applications besides. Chainmail gloves are also available. In fact, meat packing companies use them to protect the hands of employees from sharp blades.

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_Gearfried_ May 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Basically, creating a really fine-ringed maille sleeve for the calves, some gloves, and you are basically covering all of the most vunerable places on your body with an armor that is resistant to puncture wounds (also useful against any sort of animal that might go for a bite), and against slash wounds (also useful against animals). Another factor to keep in mind is that really fine maille is as supple as a fabric, and really strong. A talent at maille-weaving could come in handy in any survival situation.

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Condition1 February 1, 2013 at 9:58 pm

New on this site and saw this article. I see the debate is already going, but here's another link with studies done on people who were actually envenomated, not just pumped full of food coloring.
http://www.doctorross.co.za/wp-content/uploads/20…

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MCLMM April 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I have lived in the Southwest US for a long time, I make my living teaching desert survival and have first hand experience with too many snake bites – bottom line, these suction doo-dads are useless, in fact they usually are more harm than good. Currently we teach not only to not "cut and suck", but also that electrical stimulation and cold packs are out.

A wide, snug wrap proximal of the bite is good to slow the lymphatic system, but not tight enough to be a TQ, the SWAT-T works great, so does a regular old ace wrap. – keep the bite lower than the heart – calm the person and move to medical care. Period. Long Break. Out.

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blind donkey August 1, 2013 at 1:43 am

Fascinating conversation. After stepping on a 3 foot rattler and stepping 1 inch away from a 9 bead 2 footer in one day on a canyon scramble, I figured I should do some research. My vibrams are officially replaced with some tough ankle high boots, and yes, I realize how lucky I was.

Funny thing is, neither snake struck at me, or gave me the warning rattle.

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Jason January 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm

I’m not familiar with a sawyer extractor use in a snake bite situation personally. However, after 20 plus years of nursing experience, advanced practice nursing training, and many human phisiology, chemistry, and pharmacology classes; I would rather take my chances with 50mg of Benadryl and 150 mg of Zantac orally after a snakebite. Most of the damage from snake venom is due to histamine release from mast cells within the body. Histamine release is a major part of the human bodies reaction to anaphylactic shock. Benadryl is a H-1 receptor blocker and Zantac is an H-2 receptor blocker. Blocking these receptors helps prevent anaphylactic shock. Both are readily available over the counter. And, if you go to an ER for medical treatment of a snakebite, chances are these medications are the first thing you will receive. Along with epinephrine, IV fluids etc. Just a cheap alternative that can easily be placed in your bug out bag.

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Roy Teter April 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Use something that will draw the poison out like a chew of tobacco, cooked oats, raw potato scraped and onions scraped. It workes. When I was a kid I cut my foot by steping on a sharp hoe. All that was done for me was to put cooked oats wraped in cheese cloth and changed twice a day. Two weeks later I was healed up.

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Chloe April 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Something to use for poisonous snake bites: activated charcoal. I have heard of several occasions of people applying this and it working well, both with snakes as well as brown recluse bites. It absorbs the poison. Mix the powder with water and apply to the area. In severe cases, keep changing the charcoal mix every 15 minutes. You can take it internally as well, mixed in water. (Too much can tend to constipate you, drink extra water). Its worth researching. We use it for all kinds of poisonings (including food poisoning). It can absorb 3000 known poisons and drug residues. Great stuff to have in an emergency kit. My friend who got a bite from a brown recluse didn’t have the typical tissue death, and it healed up quickly.

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corky July 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

i'd rather have any type of venom removal than none!

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Resh September 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Bear in mind with those statistics that this is with hospitals for treatment. Google up some images of Brown Recluse bites, but try to do it on an empty stomach. They can cause necrosis of tissue (some pictures were severe enough that they required skin grafts after treatment). That tissue necrosis could absolutely lead to death via subsequent bacterial infections without medical treatment I would think.

Try here for some treatment methods from emedicinehealth.com: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/spider_bite_brown_…

Interestingly, they do mention suction and electricity as options to not try. Maybe in this case, due to the tendency of the venom to kill flesh already, creating that pocket of suction could potentially worsen the effect? I don't know for certain, just speculating.

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Noah wood October 9, 2012 at 6:36 am

If you are bitten by a brown recluse, you most likely will not know you were bitten until the venom causes necrosis. Simply wait until it has run its course, cut out the dead flesh with a sterile knife, disinfect with rubbing alcohol or peroxide, fill cavity with gauze, wrap. Keep it clean, sterilize it, and change dressings at least once a day.

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trw January 16, 2013 at 2:37 am

Could you be so kind as to list "more effective proven treatments". So far I've not heard of any! All I hear are the basic ones that wouldn't do much of anything.

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trw January 16, 2013 at 2:43 am

Applying pressure to a snakebite won't do any good, and won't take the venom out of your body. Oh yes theres no ice in the wilderness, unless its winter time.

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