Snakes alive! It's that time of year

Larry Woody • Jun 6, 2017 at 8:30 AM

My fishing buddy’s daughter Sophie and her husband were strolling their toddler along a suburban path late one afternoon last summer when something suddenly smacked her on the ankle.

Her first thought was that she had stepped on a small limb and it had flipped up and hit her. But when she glanced down she saw a snake slithering off the path and into the weeds. Then the pain began.

Sophie's husband phoned for help, paramedics quickly arrived, and she was transported to a hospital. The doctor found a single fang puncture instead of the usual two -- the snake had apparently struck a glancing blow -- but the pain and swelling continued to intensify.

Sophie was treated with anti-venom and kept overnight, and in a couple of days she was able to walk. She made a complete recovery.

Not all snakebite victims are so fortunate. Although fatalities in the U.S. are rare, they occasionally occur, and even non-fatal bites can be extremely serious.

Over 50 years ago a boyhood friend was bitten on an index finger by a copperhead (the species believed to have bitten Sophie) and today the finger remains stiff and unusable. My buddy is a dentist, and the snakebite could have cost him his career.

This time of year snakes are especially active, coinciding with when humans flock to the outdoors to fish, hike, camp, boat, bird-watch and garden. Encounters are inevitable.

If bitten by a venomous snake -- copperhead, rattler or cottonmouth -- there will be fang puncture marks. Usually there will be two, but sometimes, as in the case of Sophie, just one. The pain will commence immediately.

Don't waste time trying to kill or capture the snake for identification; it's not necessary for treatment. Immediately call for medical assistance, or transport the victim to the nearest hospital or clinic.

Don't attempt self-treatments, such as applying a tourniquet or cutting incisions into the puncture wounds to “drain” the venom. Such procedures are of little or no benefit and could cause nerve or tendon damage.

If the victim is in a remote area where help is not immediately available, he should be kept as calm as possible while being extracted. Nowadays it's prudent to carry a cell phone in such areas.

The best way to deal with snake bites is to avoid being bitten. In brushy and weedy areas watch where you step and where you sit. Be especially careful around old lumber, vacant buildings, hayfields and other places where snakes seek food and shelter. Never put your hands or fingers underneath rocks, logs, boards or pieces of old tin. Gardeners should be wary around ground-clinging leaves and vines under which snakes lurk to ambush birds and rodents.

Cottonmouths are found around water and marshy areas and like to sun on stumps and logs. Fishermen and boaters should be careful where they put their hands.

Authorities say many bites occur when someone is attempting to kill or capture the snake. Most snakes can strike one-half the length of their body, and the strike is almost too fast for the human eye to follow. You can get bitten literally before you know it.

Caution, care and common sense are the best ways to avoid a snake bite.

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