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Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

Let's NOT make these nominations about personal preferences, hearsay, or GUESSES! If you want to send a message (to you know who) about a bad product, be ready to backup your nomination with FACTS. My first nomination is...

THE SAWYER VENOM EXTRACTOR

sawyer+extractor.jpeg

This is a product I've seen on REI shelves (Santa Monica, CA) a few years ago, and has recently reappeared (possibly due to the recent looting of the store and current restocking efforts). I understand trying to make a sale, but DO SOME RESEARCH before you sell something!

I've seen (and eaten) my share of rattlesnakes while backpacking here in California, and elsewhere, and I hear about snake bites every year. I imagine it's the same everywhere. I've also seen pictures of the resulting damage and heard of the pain, in no small part due to ineffectual "treatments" causing more tissue damage and amputations. So this is no small issue!

Unfortunately, much of the advice and approaches to addressing snake bites over the past 500 years is based on myth, not medicine!! Sadly, much of it percists to this day. The Sawyer Venom Extractor (The Extractor, pictured) is one such problem!

The kit comes with a syringe and several cups that attach to the end to fit the bite site. It works, which is to say The Extractor has a VERY powerful suction.

I get it, the visceral satisfaction of "sucking out" the venom must feel like a primal way of reversing the incident, to "take it back", but that's NOT what happens and it's not that simple.

First, snake fangs are curved, so the place you would be sucktioning is NOT necessarily where the venom went/is.

Second, snake venom is not just one toxin, it's essentially a cocktail of toxins with molecules of different sizes, diffusing into various tissue compartments including the intravascular and extracellular spaces and spread AWAY from the bite site.

Also, one of the main studies Sawyer cites as reason to buy their product shows the serosanguinous fluid sucktioned out of was only 1/10,000th the concentration of the rattlesnake venom, which is basically NOTHING!

In fact, not only did The Extractor NOT do its job, but studies show more venom leaked out of the bite on its own, AND, The Extractor collapsed the tissues around the wound at the surface, forcing the venom even deeper.

@REI: Outdoor enthusiasts, particularly beginners, look to a variety of sources for help and advice. Those sources include REI in general and REI salespeople in particular. Barring that, they will simply trust that what is on the shelf is worth buying. Considering the above, I would strenuously recommend the product be pulled from your shelves and purged from your stock so it does NOT reappear!

[questions welcome]

 

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

Basically a non-issue.  Quoting from Medicine for Mountaineering, 6th edition (2010), "less than1per cent of venomous snakebites in the united States are lethal."  That's roughly 5 to 10 people annually (some of whom have refused therapy.  That is the toll from all situations, not just simply hiking or wilderness bites

 

 Treatment is best accomplished in a hospital setting, if indeed the patient has received venom (25% have not).  Keep the patient still. immobilize the bitten part, and transport by the best means possible

I imagine many people buy and carry things like the sawyer Extractor because they are overly concerned about snake bite hazard.  If they don't buy the gadget at REI they will  get one at the nearest drug store.  

REI does indeed sell items that I regard as unnecessary or trivial, but it is still a free market economy, for better or worse (at least until I am anointed King of the Universe0.

Ages ago, I packed a cut and suck outfit against the dreaded snake bite, finally discarding it a coupleof decades ago.  During that time as an avid outdoors fan, a fairly active caver, and an archaeologist, I encountered many rattlesnakes.  As an active SAR volunteer in southern Arizona, we treated many swift water situations and lots of fall victims, but no snakebites.

Once again, I agree that the Extractor is pretty worthless.  I don't recall ever seeing it in my local store, but then i don't monitor their inventory for what I think is suitable.

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

W-e-e-ll, SOME of what you say makes "just googled it and copied it here" sense, much of what you're saying is what we call a "red herring" (off point or irrelevant), at best you're missing a key point... The Extractor isn't just "worthless", it makes things WORSE! "Free market economy" be damned.

Yes, I know all the statistics regarding snake bites *eyes rolling*, after all, I have been a wilderness survivalist for adout 35 years now. So trust me when I say it's not so much that people are "over concerned", it's that they're UNDER INFORMED! As I often say, "In the wilderness, YOU are your biggest problem!"

And actually, while a bite victim may not have even been envenomated (snakes, like spiders, can control whether they expend valuable venom or not), it's possible to walk yourself to safety. Provided you remain calm (unlikely for the uninformed and unprepared). As a SAR Volunteer, you should know these things.

In any case, my point is you need to do more/better research on this topic. NOT just snake bite statistics, but the various snake bite treatments (re. first-aid in the field) and the deleterious effects thereof. Even if the method has NO effect, at a minimum, it wastes valuable time!

 

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

Treatment for snake bite is a real mess. "Cut and suck"  was the preferred treatment back in my youth (60 years or so ago), but many other modalities were also touted.  Studies revealed that cut and suck actually did more harm than good, to say nothing of other methods that were even worse(like drinking booze).

Thus the current preferred treatment:  Get the victim to a hospital as quickly as is reasonably possible where the proper antivenom can be administered, if necessary.  Today, in many circumstances, that would be helicopter transport, if indeed the victim is in the back country - the victim probably isn't.

I recall a presentation about forty years ago where a Tucson physician was discussing the circumstances surrounding snake bites.  There were two categories - young children playing around in their years, often around the front porch and (2) young adults out collecting or other wise intentionally interacting with poisonous snakes.  no hikers.

I do recall one rescue where the victim scrambling up a rocky slope, came eye to eye with a rattler, lost his footing, and fell, crunching his lower leg and ankle.  That's it.

I quoted from my dog eared copy of the sixth edition of Medicine for Mountaineering, rather than two earlier editions I possess.  This volume is my personal favorite (there are other good references as well).

My assessment of the snake hazard, based on some sixty years interaction with the critters, is to leave them alone, and they will leave me alone.  In general, poisonous reptiles (don't forget the dreaded Gila Monster!) are a relatively insignificant hazard to the outdoors enthusiast, nowhere near that posed by rough terrain (falling!) or inclement weather (either hot or cold) or possibly even forest fires (currently a problem in some areas).

I don't take it upon myself to judge the value of all the offerings presented at my REI stores or on the website.  I don't purchase things I think are irrelevant and I let my wallet do the talking.

On of the key isues in treating a victim, especially when in a remote setting, is developing trust and confidence, basically informing the victim (provided they are lucid) about the measures being taken and what is going to happen to them.  While someone else is arranging for the helo, stretcher, or whatever, I just might possibly get out the Extractor and suggest that we try this gadget out since it possibly could be of some marginal benefit.  I wouldn't overhype it, but many victims are relieved so see that some measures are being taken.  This is situational, and it might not be worthwhile, depending upon the anxiety level of the victim, but it could be useful.

I oncee read that the traditional Native American treatment for snakebite was to simply stop, sit down, and remain quiet for days, if necessary.  Doesn't seem like a bad idea at all, especially if antivenom is not available.

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

@SurvivalGal I agree. REI should not sell this and neither should Sawyer. Or at least they should not sell it or similar devices as a snake bite treatment. It is "marketed on a myth"

No credible article on snake bite first aid I have read recommends these devices and most specifically say DO NOT USE them. The consensus is that they do more harm than good. Here is an article from a credible source...more credible than me anyway.

https://www.snakebitefoundation.org/blog/2019/1/20/the-truth-about-commercial-snakebite-kits-and-ven...

While there may be other uses for a localized suction device, treating a snake bite is not one of them...neither is applying a tourniquet or applying ice as these can cause tissue damage and increase the likelihood of amputation being necessary.

For the US snake bites the advice is...

  • Move away from the snake.
  • Sit down in case you pass out.
  • Remove any jewelry or similar from the limb.  Try to keep the limb lower than the heart.  Do not over exert it but immobilization is not recommended.
  • Note the snake's color and markings and/or take a picture if it is still visible  BUT DO NOT pursue the snake - this is a good way to get multiple bites and the second bite is less likely to be "dry".  Depending on the type and age of the snake 30% to 50% of bites are venom-less.
  • Record the time and if possible mark the wound with sharpie.
  • Clean and dress the wound.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) if you feel some pain relief is necessary BUT DO NOT take blood thinning pain killers such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • Summon and seek help as soon as possible.
  • If possible hike out to transportation or to an area from which you can more easily be rescued.

This article may be of interest...WARNING: it contains a picture of an actual snake bite probably taken in Africa.

Note: This article says to use Benadryl in case of anaphylaxis but a more recent articles says Benadryl and similar antihistamine are not a useful treatment for snake bites where they may be for bee stings.

https://www.snakebitefoundation.org/blog/2018/9/6/how-to-survive-a-snakebite-in-the-wilderness

Wilderness snake bites are quite rare in the US but not quite a "non-issue". There have been two reported cases in Yosemite this year...

https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2020/09/15/yosemite-national-park-gives-safety-tips-after...

These cases also illustrates of the benefit of carrying a cell phone and/or an Satellite Messenger in the back country. The best treatment for a venomous snake bite is getting treatment fast.

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

@OldGuyot(and others)

Yes, SnakebiteFoundation.org gives good advice on the subject and, more generally, established media (in your example, USA Today) has reputable journalists who can be depended on to get the FACTS right. However, I prefer to get my information directly from the PhD's own scientific papers (which is why I'm rarely wrong on technical, scientific, medical, psychological, etc. matters).

I stay away from even considering individual blogs, websites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, etc. including "survival" people!

In this case, The Extractor is just a disaster waiting to happen! Sure, victims (or their families) can just file a lawsuit against Sawyer, Coughlin, REI, Walmart or whomever, but the damage will have already been done.

But yes, instead of a venom "Extractor", as I've ALWAYS maintained, bring a PHONE!!! (and/or a satellite communicator).

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

I'd add:  Get away from the snake and  take a picture of the snake for medics identification for proper response. Some people say they have been bitten but miss ID'd the snake. Makes it very difficult for first responders. 

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

I know REI sells a animal track and scat ID plastic card, how about one for snakes?

I know I'd like something (extremely light) to ID flowers, trees, and shrubs, along a trail.

...as well as certain types of rocks, but I don't want to carry a book, even a small 'pocket' size book.

REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes
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@hikermor(and others)

A better, more lucid response (thank you), but it still doesn't quite hit the mark.As to your ON POINT remarks:

Traditional folk "medicine" for snake bites are about as worthless as snake oil! More myth than medicine!! There are a variety of other incorrect assumptions like alcohol (both topically and orally), even Benadryl was considered for a time. And of course, the ol' "cut-'n'-suck" approach, one of the older and potentially more disastrous treatments. Each and all WRONG in their own way.

Of the incidents IN THE BACKCOUNTRY (all other venues being virtually irrelevant), remaining calm and getting to COMPETENT medical care (and antivenin) is really the only viable option. 

So WHY has The Extractor persisted?

Again, probably the uninformed relying on movies instead of medicine, or maybe people being too lazy to read the science or too dim to rely on facts. But there are also those who have a more specific intent, namely the makers and marketers.

For example, the Sawyer Products owner, Kurt Avery, once said he believes the studies he cites show only that the product doesn't work well in "large muscle areas" , such as thighs and calves. Based on the results, the company changed its label about 2007, warning the pump is "not as effective" at removing venom from large muscle areas. Mr. Avery maintained the product is effective when the bite is under the skin in hands, feet and other nonmuscled areas.

That argument didn't sound plausible to Stanford University's Paul S. Auerbach, who had initially advocated use of The Extractor in his 2003 book, "Medicine for the Outdoors" (and who was listed on Sawyer's Web site as supporting the product).

However, in the new edition of his book, in 2004, he recommend AGAINST its use based on newer research. I admit, even I purchased The Extractor not long after it came out (which I promptly trashed about six months later!) because I TRUSTED both the maker and marketer. So what chance does a BEGINNER have? 

Since then, a plethora of studies, some SPECIFICALLY citing The Extractor, agree it essentially doesn't work and may make things worse. In fact, as late as January, 2019 at the Wilderness Medical Society conference, professionals acknowledged that while clinicians like themselves mostly know about venom extractors, and why they don’t work, this STILL hasn’t trickled down to the lay PUBLIC, and that there are still some wilderness providers... EH-HEM, REI... out there that use and recommend these devices.

Bottom line 

In the end, that it doesn't work SHOULD be enough for makers and marketers to pull the product, but that it even MIGHT actually CAUSE MORE damage is not only tantamount to fraud, but is ripe for a lawsuit!  

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Re: Items I Wish REI Would NOT Sell!

Another item that REI shouldn't sell (except maybe at Christmas when people travel on sleighs and bears are hibernating): Counter Assault Bear Bell

The best explanation  is this tongue-in-cheek advice:

The National Park Rangers are advising hikers in Glacier National Park and other Rocky Mountain parks to be alert for bears and take extra precautions to avoid an encounter. 

They advise park visitors to wear little bells on their clothes so they make noise when hiking. The bell noise allows bears to hear them coming from a distance and not be startled by a hiker accidentally sneaking up on them. This might cause a bear to charge.

Visitors should also carry a pepper spray can just in case a bear is encountered. Spraying the pepper into the air will irritate the bear's sensitive nose and it will run away.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh bear scat so you have an idea if bears are in the area. People should be able to recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat.

Black bear droppings are smaller and often contain berries, leaves, and possibly bits of fur. Grizzly bear droppings tend to contain small bells and smell of pepper.

That said, bear spray is generally considered an effective deterrent. 

...Wanderer
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