Warm weather means it is snakebite season in the Raleigh/Durham area. Our state actually leads the nation in snakebite cases per capita every year!
North Carolina is home to many different species of snakes; most are harmless, but some can give venomous bites to humans.
In the WakeMed system, we see about 100 snakebites per year; about 60% of these show signs of venom poisoning. This year is no exception and we have already seen many bites. Nearly all of our bites in the Triangle region are caused by the copperhead snake. These snakes are very common throughout the state and can thrive in proximity to people. They can be found in our local parks, greenways, and along our watercourses.
Copperhead bites are almost never fatal, but can produce significant pain, swelling and tissue damage. Occasionally, someone can lose a finger or toe due to a bite, but this is rare.
In other areas of our state, there are different species of venomous snakes, including the cottonmouth (water moccasin), rattlesnakes and the coral snake. These other species can produce more dangerous bites than the copperhead. In the entire nation, however, less than 5 people die of snakebite each year.
Nearly all bites in our area result from people not seeing a snake and either putting their hands on or near it while gardening, cleaning up debris or by stepping on them. Occasionally, we see people who intentionally pick up a copperhead, thinking it’s a harmless snake. The key to avoid being bitten is to ALWAYS know where you are putting your hands and feet. Wear shoes or boots when in the outdoors, and always use a light when walking around your home in low light conditions. NEVER touch or handle a snake if you are unsure if it may be dangerous.
If a person is bitten by any snake that might be venomous, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Your best option is the emergency department as all EDs in the area carry antivenom against our local venomous snakes. Not all snakebites need antivenom, but if needed, it is important to administer the drug as soon as possible to prevent serious complications.
When in doubt call 911; a snakebite is a medical emergency! Also, remember that it is NOT advised to bring the snake to the ED. A cell phone pic can be helpful, but we do not need to know the exact species to start treatment.