Some Results of an Incidental Injection of Inimical Proteinic Substances into Human Tissue

On September 3, 1992 I was bitten by a subadult rock rattlesnake (Crotalus l. lepidus) approximately twelve inches in length. It was a quick bite with one fang. Penetration was on the outside of the last section of the little finger of the right hand, between the joint and the base of the fingernail. It was my first bite from a venomous reptile.


I am (or was at the time) a white male, 51 years old, 5'10" in height, 185 lbs., generally in good health. I have always been a fast healer from wounds and infections.


Immediately after envenomation I closed off the blood flow from the bite site with the fingers of the left hand and sucked several times on the bite site. Within ten seconds I was holding the tip of the finger under hot tap water, firmly massaging the finger from the last joint toward the bite site to force out as much blood and venom from the area as possible. After about two minutes a rubber band was applied between the middle and end joints to act as a light tourniquet. I continued to massage toward the bite site until no more blood came from the site, which was approximately six minutes after envenomation.

Approximately twenty-five minutes after the bite, I was admitted to the local hospital emergency room for observation and blood tests. Thirty minutes after the bite my pulse rate was 96 and blood pressure was 117/73. Two hours after the bite my pulse rate was 82 and blood pressure remained at 117/73. Both blood pressure and pulse rate were within my normal limits. The blood tests showed no abnormalities resultant from the envenomation.

Two hours after the bite I left the hospital.

The only treatment was prophylactic. I took 500 mg of Cephradine four times daily for ten days to ward off infection.

At no time was the skin broken for either drainage or inspection.


10 minutes: heavy swelling of the end joint, particularly on the underside of the joint; some blackening around the bite site.

20 minutes: numbing of the last joint, possibly due to swelling.

1 hour: finger swollen to knuckle.

6 hours: some swelling and slight tenderness in right armpit; swelling of knuckles of little finger and ring finger, extending about midway to wrist; swelling on palm approximately one inch in and down from base of little finger.

9 hours: slight swelling and very slight numbness in ring finger; slight swelling on palm spread to between ring finger and middle finger; some swelling from middle finger tendon to outside of hand, extending to approximately 1 1/2" from wrist; swelling in armpit remains same as at 6 hours; ring finger slightly stiff; little finger slightly flexible.

18 hours: swelling is over middle finger tendon to, but not including, index finger tendon, extending to wrist; swelling increased around bite site; darkened area extended to past last joint; area from fingernail to behind knuckle which is not gray has become reddened; slightly more tenderness in right armpit.

1 day + 10 hours: slightly more swelling in hand from between the index and middle fingers to the outside of the hand, back to wrist; slightly more swelling in right armpit; slight tenderness in right biceps.

2 days: swelling in hand reduced to outward from middle finger tendon to wrist; slight discomfort in middle finger knuckle; slight tenderness in lower inside portion of right elbow; slight swelling remains in armpit, but no discomfort; redness on finger from nail to behind knuckle continues to darken; still hard swelling on last joint of little finger; sensitivity present, tingley when rubbed, painful when prodded.

3 days: swelling in hand subsided - slight puffiness on outside of hand; swelling in little finger slightly reduced; slight swelling remains in armpit with no discomfort; redness spreading slightly on last joint.

4 days: blackness decreasing slightly; redness still present, extended to middle joint on inside of finger.

1 week: swelling confined to last joint of little finger, particularly on underside of finger, which is still fairly firm to the touch; swelling on underside is general tissue swelling, while the swelling of the darkened area around the bite site seems to be lymphic; the line of redness on the inside of the finger has extended to near the base of the finger.

12 days: still moderate swelling on underside of last joint of little finger; the redness of last joint and tip of finger has pretty well dissipated; the area around the bite site which was blackened is now a dark red; the lymphic swelling is decreasing; flexibility in all joints, but slight stiffness in little finger.

14 days: moderate swelling persists on underside of last segment of little finger; swelling of discolored portion around bite site gone, but has become a slightly raised area of hard tissue; no pain to touch or probe, but slight numbness on underside of last segment and general numbness of discolored area; slightly less than normal flexibility of last joint - flexes OK but cannot bend as fully as normal.

16 days: hardened tissue covering darkened area beginning to separate; slowly removed thick covering of deadened tissue; skin underneath pink and healthy looking; swelling on underside of tip of finger has remained the same for several days; sensitivity appears normal except for the swollen underside of the tip, where there is still slightly deficient sensitivity. After removal of the dead tissue, flexibility appears to be returned to normal.

After nine years, there is still some slight redness of the skin at the bite site, and an noticeable swelling (or enlargement) under the first joint of the finger. Full flexibility of the joint has returned.


In talking to others who have been bitten by North American pit vipers, there have been some reports of changes in bowel movements, including diarrhea.

In the first twelve hours following the bite, I experienced three bowel movements. In the next 24 hours I experienced three more, and two more occurred on the third day. Although the feces was softer and moister than usual, no diarrhea occurred.

There was a slight metallic taste on the roof of my mouth. This was noticeable about one hour after the bite and was not noticeable after two days.


When working with venomous animals, cut off all distractions, especially loud yakkers in the next room. This picture was taken by one of the yakkers about 2 hours after the bite occured.

Although it appears that envenomation functions more quickly and for a longer period than over-the-counter laxatives, it is not recommended as a substitute.

I was very fortunate. One week after the bite I fed a live adult mouse to a 20" male lepidus. The snake administered a bite with both fangs to the mid-body of the mouse, hanging on for a one second pump of venom. The mouse was immobile in approximately four seconds, and showed no signs of life after eight seconds.