A man in China was out cutting firewood near his village in the mountains of the Shangyu district of Zhejiang province when a snake bit him on the index finger of his right hand.
Believing it to be a “hundred pacer” snake (Deinagkistrodon acutus), and believing the bite of the snake to be fatal, the man named only as Zhang by local media took the decision to hack off his finger before the venom could spread around his body. The snake is known locally as the “hundred pacer” because of a belief that its venom is so strong you won’t be able to walk more than 100 steps before dying.
In some parts people refer to it as the five-step snake, clearly believing it to be 20 times more deadly than in areas where it’s known only as a hundred-stepper.
Zhang wrapped his hand in cloth and headed 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the nearest hospital in order to receive treatment, leaving what he believed to be his now-useless finger on the mountainside, the South China Morning Post reports.
“I chopped it off to save my life,” the 60-year-old told his doctor, Yuan Chengda, after making the journey, according to Fox News. The doctor then informed him that it was completely unnecessary.
“It’s not necessary at all,” Dr Yuan told Hangzhou Daily. “The five-step snake is not that toxic.”
Whilst the bite of Deinagkistrodon is dangerous – common symptoms include severe local bleeding, swelling, blistering, necrosis, and heart palpitations – and can cause fatalities, its reputation as a deadly snake is exaggerated. An antivenom is available, and in most cases, patients will survive, as long as treatment is sought quickly and administered in under six hours.
“Some [bite victims used] knives to cut their fingers or toes, some used ropes or iron wires to bind the bitten limb tightly, and some even tried to destroy the venom in their body by burning their skin,” Dr Yuan told Hangzhou Daily.
“When they arrive at the hospital, some people’s limbs are already showing signs of gangrene.”
Doctors at the hospital say that if he had brought his finger along with him, they could even have reattached it.
According to Clinical Toxinology Resources (CTR), when dealing with a bite, the “wound should not be tampered with in any way”. They advise you not to use tourniquets or to “cut, suck or scarify the wound or apply chemicals or electric shock,” and instead seek immediate medical attention, moving the affected area as little as possible.
Any victims of a bite should be reassured.
“Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically,” notes CTR. “The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment.”