Snake bites 

Introduction 

In the UK, the adder is the only venomous snake that is found in the wild  

How common are snake bites?

Worldwide, there are around five-and-a-half million snake bites every year. These result in approximately 400,000 amputations and between 20-125,000 deaths per year.

The figures vary widely depending on their source, but the majority of fatalities occur in south and south-east Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa  especially in remote areas of countries, such as India, where access to emergency medical services is limited or non-existent. 

About 100 adder bites are reported in the UK each year. Most bites occur between February and October, with the number of bites peaking during summer months.

Less than 10 UK residents are bitten by foreign snakes each year, either while travelling abroad or by captive snakes kept in this country.

Where are adders found?

The adder is common throughout mainland Britain and some islands off the west coast of Scotland. They can be found in:

  • mainland England
  • the Isle of Wight
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • some of the Inner Hebridean Islands (a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland)  

Be safe outdoors

Get tips on how to prepare for a safe day out cycling in the country or hiking along the coast

A snake will sometimes bite in self-defence if disturbed or provoked.

Some snakes are venomous and can inject venom (toxin) as they bite. A bite from a venomous snake is a medical emergency as they can be deadly if not treated quickly.

In the UK, adders are the only venomous snakes found in the wild. People also keep foreign (exotic) venomous snakes, sometimes illegally.

Exotic snakes have been known to bite while being handled carelessly, or when they escape from their cages.

There is also a risk of being bitten while travelling abroad to tropical countries.

Symptoms of snake bites

If an adder injects venom when it bites, it can cause serious symptoms including:

  • redness and swelling in the area of the bite
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting
  • dizziness

A foreign snake that injects venom when it bites can also cause: 

  • shock
  • muscle paralysis (an inability to move one or more muscles of the body) 

Sometimes, venomous snakes can bite without injecting venom. This is called a ‘dry bite' and may cause:

  • mild pain (from the snake's teeth puncturing the skin)
  • anxiety

Read more about the symptoms of snake bites.

What to do after a snake bite

Immediately after being bitten by a snake you should:

  • remain calm and don't panic; snake bites, particularly those that occur in the UK, are not often serious and rarely deadly
  • try to remember the shape, size and colour of the snake
  • keep the part of your body that has been bitten as still as possible to prevent the venom spreading around your body
  • remove jewellery and watches from the bitten limb because they could cut into your skin if the limb swells
  • do not attempt to remove any clothing, such as trousers

Seek immediate medical assistance by dialling 999 to request an ambulance or visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

You should give healthcare professionals a description of the snake to help identify it.

You may be admitted to hospital so the bite can be assessed and your condition closely monitored.

Read more about what to do if bitten by a snake and how snake bites are assessed.

Treating snake bites

In most cases of adder bites, the only treatment required is observation in hospital. As a precaution, you may be asked to stay in hospital for 24 hours to be monitored.

Anti-venom medication is an effective antidote to snake venom and can be used to treat more severe snake bites.

In most cases, children bitten by an adder will make a full recovery in about 1-3 weeks. Adults usually require more than three weeks to recover fully, and a quarter of adults will take between 1-9 months.

Read more about how snake bites are treated.

Why do snakes bite?

When a snake bites, it injects venom to immobilise its prey. As humans are too large for a snake to eat, most snakes bite in self defence.

Snake bites often occur when a person accidentally steps on a snake while out walking. However, sometimes people are bitten when they deliberately provoke a snake by striking it or trying to pick it up. 

Read more about the causes of snake bites.

Preventing snake bites

Follow the advice listed below if you are in an area where venomous snakes are found.

  • Look out for warning notices on heaths and commons
  • Wear boots and long trousers
  • Never pick up a snake, even if you think it is harmless or appears dead
  • Never put your hand in a hole or crevice for example, between rocks. If you need to retrieve something, stand well back and use a stick to reach it
  • If you find yourself very close to a snake, stand completely still. Most snakes only strike at moving targets. If you remain calm and still, the snake will escape without harming you



Page last reviewed: 26/07/2012

Next review due: 26/07/2014

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