Health Team

Snake bites common in N.C.

Posted July 7, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2010 6:51 p.m. EDT

North Carolina leads the nation in the number of people bitten annually by snakes, both venomous and non-venomous.

— North Carolina leads the nation in the number of people annually bitten by snakes, both venomous and non-venomous.

People can take some steps to avoid being bitten and learn how to treat snake bites.

"A number of bites I see in the (emergency room) are the result of either people walking around barefoot in the yard or people walking around in flip-flops," said Dr. Ben German, an emergency room physician at WakeMed in Raleigh.

German, who also is a snake hobbyist, said snakes bite only when they're surprised and feel threatened. He advised people to watch where they walk and to be careful about picking up objects in the yard.

Whenever a snake is seen, don't try to handle it – just leave it alone and keep children and pets away from it.

If someone is bitten, don't try the old first aid tip for snake bites of cutting into the bite to try to suck the venom out.

"From the moment you're bitten, call 911 or have someone call 911," German said, adding that people who have encountered one snake need to be alert for a second snake nearby.

If needed, anti-venom administered at a hospital can save a limb. There's no need to bring the snake to the hospital as well, German said, and people shouldn't try to kill the animal.

"I don't kill them. It wasn't the snake's fault," said Grover Barfield, director of the Carolinas Reptile Rescue and Education Center in Mount Holly, who was bitten by a venomous water moccasin eight years ago.

"I spent two to three nights in intensive care (and received) 10 vials of anti-venom," he said.

Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, are found primarily in swampy areas of North Carolina, while timber rattlesnakes are found in the mountains and coastal plains.

Meanwhile, copperheads can be found anywhere in the state. Barfield said their bite can be serious but is rarely life-threatening.