Venomous snake bites are unfortunately on the rise in North Carolina, so we spoke to a poison control expert about steps you can take to keep you and your family safe from these reptiles this summer.

Your Health | 3 years ago

Snake Bites On the Rise In North Carolina?

Venomous snake bites are unfortunately on the rise in North Carolina, so we spoke to a poison control expert about steps you can take to keep you and your family safe from these reptiles this summer.

Summer presents the perfect time to engage with North Carolina’s lush natural beauty in a fun, hands-on way. But as you head outdoors, you’ll want to be on the lookout for any of the numerous snake varieties that call our state home. From copperheads to cottonmouths, these venomous snakes can put a halt on summer fun in an instant.

According to North Carolina Poison Control, snake bites are on the rise in North Carolina. And the tough part is, snake bites aren’t limited to hiking trails. In fact, most snake bites occur at a person’s place of residence, usually during mundane outdoor activities, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn. So how can you prevent these bites or treat them once they happen? We spoke to Michael C. Beuhler, MD, medical director of NC Poison Control, the state’s poison control center and an organization affiliated with Atrium Health, to get some answers.

Why more bites?

“I have run our numbers, and we can say with near certainty that we are having an increase in venomous snake bites since the beginning of the year,” says Dr. Beuhler. “Of greater interest, we are having a significant increase in the number of calls from January to April (62) over previous years (average 37) for about a 67% increase in venomous bite calls.”

But this begs the question: Why? Dr. Beuhler is quick to note that there isn’t one distinct reason for this increase. Instead, it’s a multifactorial phenomenon, with multiple causes contributing to the uptick. One possibility is that simply more people are calling to get help for bites. It could also have to do with an increase in human-snake interaction.

While there are other possibilities — such as the wet winter North Carolina experienced or an increase in the amount of available food sources for snakes — Dr. Beuhler hesitates to make any grand conclusions. Instead, the most important thing is educating people about preventing bites and treating bites after they happen.

What precautions can I take?

There are a few simple steps you can take to decrease your chances of getting bitten by a snake. “Basics like good footwear, a flashlight, and not putting your arms and legs in places you can’t fully see are important,” says Dr. Beuhler. For instance, if you’re walking through a campground late at night and can’t see what’s in front of you, you could unknowingly walk in the path of a dangerous snake.

Antagonizing the snake in any way, such as picking it up or throwing something at it only increases your chances of being bitten. 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. After all, the environment is still reliant upon snakes to keep rodent populations in check.

Sometimes a bite is just the result of bad luck. Dr. Beuhler recounts stories of people being bitten while walking through their driveway or doing yard work. And bites are not limited to strapping athletes who take on the wilderness. Forty percent of NC Poison Control patients were 60 or over or under 18, meaning children and those older are just as likely to be bitten. A surprising amount of bites were also found in urban areas. Anyone can be bitten just about anywhere — so if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten, what should you do?

Got a bite? Here’s what to do

Although there are five species of pit viper snakes that live In North Carolina, most likely if you were bit it was by a copperhead snake, the most common type of snake in the area. Compared to the rattlesnakes you might find out west, copperheads are a bit tamer by comparison.

“How you treat a copperhead bite depends on where the bite is, underlying medical conditions, and how much venom was injected,” says Dr. Beuhler. If you’re bitten, you’ll notice one or two puncture wounds — or more if you’ve been bitten more than once. The wound might ooze a bit, get red, and swell depending on the amount of venom in the bite. Systemic effects can be a fast heart rate and feelings of anxiety.

Dr. Beuhler is quick to note that about half of copperhead bites are “dry” (meaning no venom) or have a very mild amount of venom. That’s because venom is “expensive” — snakes don’t want to waste too much venom on a human that they have no chance of eating. If a bite is dry, you’ll likely experience no systemic symptoms, and the swelling will likely be mild.

“We recommend that if people aren’t having life-threatening signs, we would want you to call poison control at 1-800-222-1222,” says Dr. Beuhler. “We can assist you by providing appropriate initial treatment recommendations and when hospital referral is required we will call the health care facility to further assist in your treatment. Our services are without charge and available 24/7.

Looking to learn more? Click here to order a free snake information pack or view NC Poison Control’s snake poster. The NC Poison Control website has a wealth of resources to educate you about common bites and different poisons to be aware of.