It sounds like the makings of a creepy summer blockbuster: Venomous snake bites are on the rise in North Carolina, according to Dr. Michael Beuhler, the medical director of North Carolina Poison Control. His office received 62 calls related to snake bikes between January and April, when the average for that period in previous years has been 37. That’s about a 67% increase, Beuhler said in a post to Atrium Health’s “Daily Dose” blog.
But though the news will be a bit frightening for some, there’s no need to panic — just be appropriately cautious. And do be aware that snake bites can happen anywhere, not just in the wild. “A surprising amount of bites were also found in urban areas,” Beuhler said. “Anyone can be bitten just about anywhere.” He recounted incidents of people being bitten while doing yard work or while walking through their driveway.
And he does mean anyone. Forty percent of the bite patients were either 60 and over or under 18.
There’s no definitive explanation for why snake bites have increased, but several factors could help explain why, according to Beuhler. They include the wet winter, which kept snakes active, or an increase in the amount of available food sources. Increased human-snake interaction could also play a role.
Or it could simply be that more people are calling for help after a bite.
North Carolina has six types of venomous snake: copperhead, which is the most common type of venomous snake here; cottonmouth (or water moccasin); and three types of rattlesnakes: eastern diamondback, pigmy and timber. There are also eastern coral snakes, which are extremely rare and reclusive.
Learning about them can be fascinating.
None of these snakes go looking for trouble. They tend to strike when threatened or cornered.
“Antagonizing the snake in any way, such as picking it up or throwing something at it only increases your chances of being bitten,” Beuhler said. “Instead, leave the snake alone, stay at least six feet away from it, and give it some space to move.
“There’s no reason to try to kill it,” Beuhler said. “After all, the environment is still reliant upon snakes to keep rodent populations in check.”
For the most part, preventing a bite is a matter of common sense: “Basics like good footwear, a flashlight, and not putting your arms and legs in places you can’t fully see are important,” Beuhler said.
In the event of a bite, according to the poison center, one should:
- Sit down and stay calm.
- Gently wash the area with warm, soapy water.
- Remove any jewelry or tight clothing near the bite site.
- Keep the bitten area still, if possible, and raise it to heart level.
- Call the Carolinas Poison Center: 1-800-222-1222.
Note: If a snakebite victim is having chest pain, difficulty breathing, face swelling or has lost consciousness, call 911 immediately.
Keep in mind, too, that not every snake bite, even from a venomous snake, will contain venom.
One should not:
- Cut the bitten area to try to drain the venom. This can worsen the injury.
- Ice the area. Icing causes additional tissue damage.
- Make and apply a tourniquet or any tight bandage. It’s better for the venom to flow through the body than for it to stay in one area.
- Suck or use a suction device to remove the venom.
- Attempt to catch or kill the snake.
A snake bite could put a serious damper on summer fun. But with a little caution and spatial awareness, we should all be safe.