April 19th, 2021
It is that time of year again. Snakes are coming back out to play as temperatures stay above 60 degrees F repeatedly. Back in 2015, we looked at how snakes were a relatively common inhabitant of the United States with potential risks associated with unintended exposures. Snakes are an uncommon cause of human injury overall, but young boys and men are the most likely to be bitten and sustain trauma based on their risk taking behavior, go figure.
North Carolina often leads the United States in cases of venomous snake bites.
The most common venomous snake is the copperhead which is found in every county in NC. Other venomous snakes include the cottonmouth/water moccasin, pigmy/eastern/timber (three distinct) rattlesnakes and coral snake. These other snakes are found more commonly in the coastal areas and the mountains.
Bites usually occur when a barefooted person stumbles upon a snake and startles it in to action or when we attempt to play with or kill a snake. Some snakes warn us of their presence by shaking a rattle although human selection is killing the rattlesnakes that have loud rattles and quieter bretheren are procreating when they are left alone to survive.
Many snakebites are dry strikes without envenomation. When venom is introduced into the skin the area will swell and become painful. Death is very rare with less than 10 mortal events per year country wide.
Most snakes are not aggressive, however, when you walk on trails watch for relaxing snakes. Stay out of tall grass where possible and wear boots when hiking.
If one does get bitten -
Actions to Do
1) Remain calm, leave the area where the snake resides, and have someone call 9-1-1 or poison control. Do not try and capture the snake. The less the victim moves, the less likely the venom will be spread through the bodies circulation and cause damage.
2) Have the victim lie down with the affected limb at the level of the heart. Keep the limb immobilized.
3) Remove any rings, bracelets, boots, or other restricting items from the bitten extremity as the area will swell.
4) Wash the bite with soap and water (if available).
Actions to Avoid
1) DO NOT cut the bite. The additional tissue damage may actually increase the diffusion of the toxins throughout the body.
2) DO NOT apply a tourniquet. Such action can result in the loss of the limb.
3) NEVER try to suck out the venom by mouth. You can try the suction cup in a snakebite kit if it doesn't delay other needed treatment. Suctioning seldom provides any measurable advantages, however.
4) Do not apply cold and/or ice packs. Recent studies indicate that application of cold or ice makes the injury much worse. (Fry B. 2018)
All this being said, snakes are part of the natural balance of the ecosystem. Most snakes are useful for controlling rodent populations. Try not to kill them out of fear and just walk away.
Once bitten, twice shy,
NC Poison Control
NCState Coop Page