Local News

Snake bite cases spike in April; NC Poison Center blames mild winter

Posted May 2, 2017 8:37 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:39 p.m. EDT

Although venomous, these snakes are generally not aggressive and bites are rarely fatal, but it is a smart habit to look out for them in North Carolina's woods.

A mild winter may be to blame for a dramatic increase in the number of snake bites reported across the Tar Heel State in April.

The Poison Control Center received 71 calls about snake bites last month. In April 2016, the center only received 19 calls.

Copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes (eastern diamondback, pigmy and timber) and the coral snake are the venomous species native to North Carolina.

The coral is the most rare, and the copperhead is the most plentiful, officials said.

The center receives about 10 times the number of calls about copperhead bites than all other snake species combined.

Poison Center: More info on snakes

“Venom is poison, and we handle all kinds of poison exposures – including exposures to venom,” Dr. Michael C. Beuhler, Medical Director of the Carolinas Poison Center, said in a statement. “We help treat around 500 snake bites statewide every year.”

With the spring increase, snake bite calls are expected to climb well above 500 for the year.

Most of the calls Carolinas Poison Center receives about snake bites come from other doctors and nurses looking for treatment recommendations for patients arriving at their facilities.

Treatment is based on a number of factors including the type of snake involved, the amount of venom injected, and the health of the person bitten.

Some snake bites can be treated and watched at home with the help of a poison control center.

About half of all snake bites that the poison center is consulted about can be treated without antivenom.

There are several things people can do to lessen their chance of being bitten:

  • Check boots and shoes that are laying in the garage or outside before putting them on
  • Wear sturdy boots or shoes when outside, especially when gardening or hiking
  • Watch your step when outside and watch where your hands go—use a flashlight if it’s dark
  • Back away slowly if you see a snake. Don’t try to pick it up or move it. Snakes can bite when they feel threatened

If bitten by a snake, call Carolinas Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. A hospital visit may not be necessary.

If bitten, there are also some things people can do to make the situation worse.

If bitten DO NOT:

  • Cut the bitten area and suck the venom out. This can cause infection
  • Ice the area. Icing causes additional tissue damage
  • Apply a tourniquet or tight bandage. It’s better for the venom to flow through the body
  • Attempt to catch or kill the snake. You might get bitten again