Snakebites surging in NC, poison center says

Copperhead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolinas Poison Center is reporting a huge spike snake bites this Spring.

In April 2016, the center received 19 calls about snake bites. This year, it has received 71 calls in April.

The center says a milder winter is likely helping to drive the increase.

The center gets 10 times as many calls about copperhead bites as it gets about bites from the rest of North Carolina’s venomous snakes. The other such snakes in the state are cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and coral snakes.

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

But the center says it expects to be well over that total this year, because of the spike in bites.

The center said in a recent news release that while most of its calls are from medical professionals seeking treatment recommendations for patients, the center is also happy to speak with individuals suffering from snake bites.

“If bitten, Carolinas Poison Control Center can help a person determine if hospital care is needed,” the center wrote. “A surprising number of snake bites can be treated and watched at home with the help of a poison control center.”

Factors ranging from the type of snake doing the biting to the health of the person being bitten can determine which course of treatment is best for a victim.

The center offered these tips to cut the risk 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.

If bitten, the center says, 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.

The Carolinas Poison Center will send a free snake prevention pack to anyone in North Carolina. Details are available at www.NCPoisonCenter.org. Click on “Shop Education Materials.”

The center also provides free and confidential phone calls and online assistance with poisoning emergencies and questions about poisons. The phone number is 1-800-222-1222. The center says that, if you’re bitten by a snake, a hospital visit may not be necessary, and urges you to call.