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A prairie rattlesnake coils into striking position, flicking its forked tongue in and out on a sunny, dry hillside near Livingston, Montana on July 24, 2016

Stay Safe from Snakebites. Here’s How.

It’s the time of year where there’s a ssssssspike in snake bites.

WakeMed emergency departments typically treat approximately 100 snakebites per year. Of these, 60 percent are venomous. The other 40 percent are “dry bites” (no venom injected), or they are from harmless snakes.

So far, this year, WakeMed has seen over 20 snake bites, which is about double the number we saw during the same period in 2016. This is likely due to a milder winter and a warmer early Spring. Snakes have become active earlier this year, just as people are enjoying the pleasant outdoor conditions.

snakes-chart

4 Most Common Snakes in Our Area

The following are the most common types of snakes found in our area. We’ve included some helpful bullet points about each one below.

#1 – Copperhead Snakes

  • Most common venomous snake in the Wake County, NC area
  • Can be found anywhere in NC, from the mountains to the coast
  • Bites are painful & cause swelling, bruising, tissue damage, and rarely loss of limb.
  • Almost never fatal
  • Not typically as severe as rattlesnake or cottonmouth bites

#2 – Rattlesnakes

  • Bites tend to be far more serious than copperhead bites
  • Bites can be fatal
  • More commonly found in the mountains or far eastern part of NC
  • Typically spotted in undisturbed areas (forest, game lands, etc.)

#3 – Cottonmouth Snakes (aka: Water Moccasin)

  • Name comes from the white lining of the snake’s mouth (seen when trying to scare predators)
  • Tends to stay close to the surface of water
  • More commonly spotted east and south of the Triangle

#4 – Coral Snakes

  • Are red, black and yellow in color
  • Found primarily near the coast (Wilmington, NC area)
  • Bites almost always occur when people handle these snakes
  • Venom affects the nervous system
  • No reported bites in NC

What To Do If Bitten By a Snake

Seek prompt medical attention if you think the snake might be venomous.

If you think you may have been bitten by a venomous snake, or if there is any uncertainty, don’t delay.

While waiting, clean the area with basic soap and water. Avoid doing any suction, cutting or tourniquet tricks. Keep the bite victim calm and still (minimize movement of their extremities). Reassure them that it’s treatable and almost never fatal.

Snake Bites & Children

Snake bites can be more severe for kids because kids are smaller, and it’s the same amount of venom. Some kids will pick snakes up out of curiosity, and that’s a common scenario for a bite.

Cottonmouth

Minimize Your Chances of Snake Bites

Frequently, snake bites happen when people don’t watch where they are putting their hands or feet. Snakes tend to be nocturnal, so many bites happen at dusk when people are taking out trash in bare feet or cleaning up landscaping debris.

The following are some tips to help you avoid getting bitten by snakes:

  1. Look where you’re walking/reaching.
  2. Use a flashlight after dark when outside.
  3. Wear sturdy shoes/boots during outdoor activities: above the ankle is best.
  4. Teach kids not to pick up or poke snakes.
  5. Instruct kids to walk away and tell an adult if they see a snake.
  6. Do NOT teach kids to kill a snake. It may increase their chances of getting bitten.
  7. Make your yard unattractive to snakes. Don’t give them places to hide.
  8. Even after you think a snake is dead, it can still bite you!*

*Even when a snake’s head is severed from its body, it can still bite for an hour or more.

Debunking Myths About Snakes

Contrary to what you may have heard, snakes don’t go out of their way to bite you, and they don’t chase you. If a snake bites someone, it’s a last resort because they feel threatened, startled, or scared. If you spot a snake, walk away. Even the ones that can move quickly aren’t going to outpace a person who purposefully walks away.

Finally, fewer than 5 people in the United States actually die from snakebites. Typically, a death from a snake bite is the result of someone who didn’t seek quick medical treatment or had some other unusual circumstance.

Keeping Snakes Away

Perhaps the best thing  you can do to keep snakes away from your home is keep your grass and shrubs well trimmed. Keep your yard free of places for snakes to hide. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Wood piles
  • Rock piles
  • Other stacks of debris

Snake repellents, such as moth balls, can be toxic to humans and pets.


About Benjamin German, MD

Dr. Benjamin German is an emergency physician with Wake Emergency Physicians and a snake enthusiast/venom specialist.

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