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Copperhead Snake Bite

Carlyn Kelly-Chasse - Monday, February 06, 2012

                              

Copperheads bite more people in the U.S. in most years than any other species but they also have the mildest venom.  North Carolina has distinction of the most venomous snake bites of any state in the U.S., most of which are from Copperheads. While Copperhead venom is not deadly to humans, a bite to a small animal such as a dog or cat could be fatal. Those who are very young, very old or have a compromised immune system will be more severely impacted from the bite and will likely take longer to recover. When people do die from a Copperhead snake bite, it is due to an allergic reaction to the venom.  

Copperheads prefer areas that are partially wooded with low brush and leaves and they can usually be found near water. They can grow to a length of about 36 inches their color ranges from pinkish tan to orange with darker hourglass shaped blotches across the back. The most distinctive sign that people to distinguish between a Copperhead and a non-venomous snake is the triangluar shaped head set on a narrow neck.                                                                                                          

Most bites from Copperheads occur when humans intrude on their environment or intentionally try to pick up or kill the snake. Copperheads are very timid and if given the chance, will get away and avoid human contact altogether.  If they can’t get away, they are likely to bite. Copperheads do not have an easily identifiable threat display like that of a rattlesnake or cottonmouth. Their initial threat display is to strike! It lashes out as a warning and if the intruder is close enough, the snake’s fangs will penetrate the skin. However, because this is a threat display rather than an attempt to kill, the snake injects little venom. If it can scare away the intruder with a minor bite, it will not waste valuable venom that is needed for hunting. This is why most Copperhead bites are not severe.

A Copperhead bite is extremely painful may cause extensive scarring and diminished use of the affected limb. Symptoms of a bite include a visible bite site, pain, redness and swelling at the bite site, sweating, nausea, vomiting, abnormally low blood pressure, general pain in all limbs, and lack of clotting. The venom causes local tissue destruction and is hemotoxic, meaning it changes the properties of the blood so it does not coagulate. Furthermore, the puncture wound caused by the bite is difficult to clean could result in a secondary infection if not properly treated. If you suspect you have been bitten by a Copperhead, it is wise to get medical attention immediately. If you are bitten while in the backcountry, clean the wound thoroughly with tincture of iodine or soap and water, cover with a sterile dressing and evacuate immediately. You may consider taking an antihistamine in order to counteract a potential allergic reaction during evacuation. Most Copperhead bites are treated with antibiotics to prevent infection, a steroid to reduce inflammation and pain relievers. Anti-venom is rarely required.       

                                


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