Health Team

Summer is snake-bite season, so tread lightly

Posted June 17, 2014
Updated June 18, 2014

Warmer weather means people are more active outdoors – and so are snakes.

When the two meet, the result is often a snake bite. In North Carolina, up to 70 percent of all snake bites come from venomous snakes.

“In our area, that’s almost 100 percent copperheads,” said Dr. Benjamin German, a WakeMed emergency physician.

German says about 33 snake-bite patients have come into WakeMed emergency department already this year.

Copperheads are known for their khaki and dark-brown coloring - with hourglass-shaped banding.

They are pit vipers related to cottonmouths and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, which are found mostly in eastern or southeastern parts of the state.

Copperheads cover the entire state.

Their bites aren't considered life-threatening, but you may need anti-venom to save a limb.

“For very mild cases, you may not actually need the anti-venom,” German said. “But if the symptoms, such as pain and swelling, continue to progress, then typically we will offer somebody anti-venom.”

Anti-venom works for all pit vipers, but it costs $3,000 to $4,000 per vial. Patients often need up to six vials.

The best prevention is awareness and avoidance.

“Typically, they're not looking to bite a person. They're looking to get away,” German said.

They may encounter humans as they look for water and hunt for small rodents and other prey. Those are the same reasons people encounter non-venomous black rat snakes.

“Very, very rarely do these ever cause any problems besides just tiny teeth punctures,” German said of black rat snakes. “The farmers and the gardeners love them, because they're as good a form of rodent control as you can get.”

WRAL health expert Dr. Allen Mask said anyone who thinks they have been bitten by a venomous snake should call 911 and get to a hospital.

Many patients think they need to bring the snake to the hospital with them, but leave it alone.

“The anti-venom, if needed, will work for most any snake bite you get in North Carolina,” Mask said.

Keep the affected limb in a neutral position, don’t put ice on the wound and don’t try to use a tourniquet to stop the flow of venom, Mask said.

Old first-aid books promoted the idea of cutting around the wound with a knife and trying to suck out the venom.

“Don’t,” Mask advised. “You won’t get the venom out, and you may cause an infection.”


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  • 45ACP Jun 19, 2014

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    That is about the most ignorant thing I've heard in a while.

  • Eric Murray Jun 19, 2014
    user avatar

    These are "venomous" snakes. Something that is poisonous makes you ill if you eat or ingest it. Poisonous plant, venomous reptile. Anyway, although a recent WRAL video says Copperheads are to blame for most harmful snake bites; it's actually us humans who are to blame in most cases -- attempting to move them, kill them or just being careless.

  • Ernest T Jun 18, 2014

    I do lawn maintenance so I'm out in yards every day, all day. In the 15 years I've been doing lawn maintenance, I've seen 5 copperheads and every one of them was already dead. I see live garter snakes, black snakes, and water snakes all the time.

    I fear dead poisonous rats far more than I fear copperheads.

  • Plum Tuckered Jun 18, 2014

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    Not sure if serious ?!?

    Your 'perhaps if' suggestion is wrong in so many ways!

  • Lamborghini Mercy Jun 17, 2014

    A few weeks ago I ran across a copperhead in the yard after working in it for 40 minutes. Needless to say it was beheaded. Perhaps if North Carolina is aware of this issue they should setup dead rats with poison during snake season and place them near the lakes to help control the amount copperheads in NC.

  • Kenny Dunn Jun 17, 2014
    user avatar

    Everyone needs to learn to identify copperheads as they are the main threat.

    Already had to get a black snake out of our storage shed. The spousal unit freaked out but just glad it was only a black snake.