Health Team

Know what to do if a snake bites

Posted August 24, 2012

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— Outdoors in the summertime?

If so, you might be at a greater risk of crossing paths with a snake.

Dr. Brian Quigley, an emergency room physician at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, says that copperheads are the most common venomous snake in the Triangle and that people typically encounter them at construction sites, on farms or in garden areas.

They come in different shades and color intensity, but their copper-colored bands are shaped like an hourglass.

"Generally, their bites are not fatal," Quigley said. "They can be painful, and sometimes we give anti-venom."

To prevent bites, he recommends wearing boots that cover the ankles while walking in wooded areas.

Never try to pick a snake up or try to move it, regardless of what species it might be, he adds.

"The main thing is to just be aware of your environment," Quigley said. "Be aware that snakes may be out and may be active."

Know what to do if a snake bites Know what to do if a snake bites

If you're bitten by a venomous snake, here's some other advice and things to know from medical experts:

- If the snake is venomous or you're unsure whether it is, go to the nearest emergency room and seek treatment immediately.

- Remain calm. Often, a snake doesn't release its venom when it strikes. It's just a warning to stay away. Baby copperheads, however, are more likely to release venom.

- Don't try to kill the snake or take it with you to the hospital. Instead, take notice of what it looks like so you can describe it to the medical professional treating you.

- Hospitals have anti-venom for pit vipers. Medical professionals will decide whether it is necessary, depending on your symptoms.

Although there are nearly 40 species of snakes in North Carolina, only six species – three rattlesnake species, copperhead, cottonmouth and coral – are venomous.

Rattlesnakes are more prevalent in the mountains and coastal plains.

Cottonmouths typically stay in water or swamp areas in the eastern half of the state.

Coral snakes are rare and typically spend their time underground. They are primarily located in the lower coastal plain and Sandhills.


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  • whyalltheproblems Aug 29, 2012

    good tips to know. thank you Dr. Mask!!

  • Lost and Loaded Aug 28, 2012

    The biggest trouble with copperheads is their very effective camouflage and the fact that they will freeze at the approach of large animal or human instead of slithering away. Humans typically get bitten by them simply stepping on them or stepping too close, because we just don't see them. I was bitten by one and it was painful, but not deadly. No long term tissue damage at all. I think it's about the same a fire ant sting and probably about as deadly. So you should move them away and try not to kill unless they are a pest (by hanging out in the same area where they could bite you or someone else).

  • Gnathostomata Aug 27, 2012

    Snakes eat insects and rodents, and are very shy for the most part. The Black Snake in the garage doesn't bother me and I do not bother him; he does watch what is going on but has never interfered. If given a choice I would rather have a snake there than rodents that carry more diseases and leave feces everywhere they go. Pits are not welcomed here, but I haven't seen them in town, only out in the country. Hognose and garter are okay as long as I look before reaching into flower beds or the rock wall. They leave a smell that is pretty noticeable. Wish they'd get all the voles around the yard.

  • wake1794 Aug 27, 2012

    Copperheads are very common where I live, I've seen five in my yard this year alone. I live in between Fuquay Varina and Raleigh and have probably killed at least twenty in the time I have lived at my current residence. I would probably leave them alone if I didn't have other family members and pets to worry about. I do not kill harmless snakes, especially black rat snakes that prey on copperheads. I have to watch my step in my yard and garden and make sure to look around me when I am working with my vegetables.

  • bresilver Aug 27, 2012

    We live in the town of Burlington and had a copperhead come up on our backporch and was sitting up on the sill of our back door. My husband was lucky he saw it before it was able to bite him. He was able to behead it.