You're hiking with a friend. The sun is shining, the birds are singing -- you're feeling one with nature. Then the unthinkable happens -- as you step over a tree log on the trail, a snake beneath it lurches out and sinks its fangs into your calf. Out of all the panicky thoughts that race through your mind, one screams the loudest -- something you learned in the Scouts: If you get bitten by a snake, suck out the venom. Frantically, you turn to your friend and to tell him to start sucking, but he replies, "No way, man! Then we'll both die."

Is he right? Or, is he just a big coward who should be crossed off your friend list?

Here's your answer: Most likely, your friend wouldn't die from ingesting snake venom. But if he has an open wound in his mouth, the venom could enter his bloodstream, which is very dangerous. On the flipside, his mouth, like any human mouth, is stocked full of germs that could cause infection in your wound. So, either way you slice it, venom-sucking isn't a winning solution.

To understand how to treat -- and how not to treat -- a snakebite, you need to understand how venom affects your body. Note that we don't use the word "poison" when discussing snakebites. Poisons are toxic if you swallow or inhale them. Venoms, on the other hand, are only toxic if injected into soft tissues and the bloodstream. So, technically, if you suck the venom out of a snakebite and you don't have an open wound in your mouth, you won't be affected. But that doesn't mean you should do it! Although long considered a viable treatment, experts now strongly advise against sucking the venom out of a snakebite wound. What changed their minds?

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