GAINESVILLE, Texas – Copperheads and other snakes are slithering their way across north Texas in unusually high numbers.
“We haven’t seen a huge uptick,” said Suart Smith, a certified emergency nurse who works in the ER at North Texas Medical Center (NTMC). “However, there has been an uptick in North Texas for copperhead bites.”
In educating people on how to avoid being bitten by copperheads and other snakes, recognizing where the reptiles tend to hide and why they hide, is highly emphasized.
“We’re not the only ones looking for a cool place to hang out,” Smith said. “A lot of places that you’ll find snakes, since they’re exothermic, which means they can’t regulate their own body temperature, so a lot of times you’ll find them under brush piles, under rocks, under sheds , and those kinds of places where they can keep cool. ”
Humans are encouraged to avoid places snakes tend to hide.
“It’s a good idea to continuously mow your property and keep tall grasses down, and remove any rock piles, brush piles and junk piles where they can hide, and reduce the rodents as much as possible so that they don’t have as much food to draw them in, ”said Tanah Lowe, who works for Texas A&M Agrilife Extension in Cooke County as the Cooke County Agriculture and Natural Resources extension agent. “If they have no food and no place to hide, you’re less likely to see them.”
The first thing to do, when a snake is spotted, is to go the other direction and leave it alone, as they often do not bite unless provoked. However, bite victims are told to stay calm and seek medical attention immediately.
“First and foremost, remain calm. If your heart races, you’re going to expedite the progression of the venom, ”said Smith. “You want to get someone else to drive you to the emergency department.”
A few steps can help the treatment go more quickly and smoothly.
“It’s a good idea to remove things like jewelry, rings, tight-fitting clothing and those types of things because, depending on where you are bitten, that part of your body might swell,” said Smith. “If you have your phone with you and can, you can take a picture of the snake, which helps us here in the ER to identify the snake. We absolutely do not want you to put that snake in a bucket and bring it to the ER, which I have seen before in the past. ”
A bite victim should wash the area, if possible, with soap and water, said Sarah Clure, a registered nurse at NTMC.
“If you are bitten on a limb, like on your arm or hand, you want to keep that extremity at heart level or below,” said Clure.
Outlining the bite can help, said Smith.
“Because once you get to the emergency room, we can see the progression of the redness, or the five-dollar-word: erythema, to see if the redness starts to spread outside those boundaries,” Smith said.
Professionals at NTMC also advise waiting and letting the hospital give medication.
“Once you get to the emergency department, we have an anti-venom medicine that neutralizes the bite and it is an immunization,” said Smith.
Don’t apply ice to the area, Clure said.
“You don’t suck on the wound like you see a lot of movies demonstrating, where somebody places their mouth over the wound and sucks out the venom and spits it out; we highly advise not to do that, “Clure said.” Do not take Motrin or over-the-counter NSAIDs prior to coming in. And do not use tourniquets to tighten the vital blood flow to the extremities. “
Snake bite kits that look like syringes with suction cups on them are not proved to be beneficial, said Smith: “It’s more of a novelty item than anything else.”