Don’t believe what you read on the internet

snakebiteWhile my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek with regards to the title of this blog post, this is a topic that is sadly all too common. Many of us in the medical field are aware of patients coming to us with medical “facts” that they have obtained on the internet that are at best misleading, and at worst incredibly dangerous.

What’s this have to do with wilderness, you say? Since wilderness medicine is often Macgyvering treatments in austere settings, it is ripe for misinformation. I’ve personally had to dispel some myths about snakebites on an online Jeep forum, as I couldn’t let someone potentially get hurt because of reading a false statement. Apparently the authors of this paper had run into a similar issue, as they wrote an article discussing the accuracy of online recommendations.

I don’t think anybody is going to be surprised that more than half of what they found out there was terrible. Now, part of that may be because they simply typed “snake bite treatment” or “snake bite first aid” in both google and yahoo, and took the first 25 sites from each search. Due to duplications and irrelevant links, they ended up with only 48 distinct web pages. They also rated them using JAMA benchmarks and the presence of the Health on Net seal.

The majority of the errors were with regards to the use of suction. I don’t know if it is because the manufacturer of the commonly available suction devices keeps trying to reinforce this behavior, or if people really just want suction to work, but 14/48 sites promoted the use of it, including sites that had Health on Net seals. At the time of the research for the paper, medlineplus.gov, fda.gov (and they call snakes poisonous!), and umm.edu (University of Maryland Medical Center) all recommended suction.  As you can see if you follow the links, they still contain those errors. Other separate site errors included recommending the use of ice, incision, or the use of electrical shock.

For the record, when bitten by a snake in North America, you want to remove constrictive items (watches, rings, etc), provide basic life support, analgesia, and hydration as needed. In addition to the above list of things NOT to do, you also don’t want to use heat, alcohol (topically or imbibed), or any other topical chemicals or herbals. And clearly, consult a medical professional in any potentially life threatening situation, and not trusting various unvetted or even apparently vetted internet sites.

Accuracy of Internet Recommendations for Prehospital Care of Venomous Snake Bites
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21168781

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