Did you know we were in the middle of snake biting season? No we’re not suggesting that people are biting snakes this time of year, but snakes are indeed biting people. During the months of May-October, more snake bite incidents are recorded in the U.S. than any other time of the year. Considering we are in peak season, addressing this issue now seemed timely; just in case you and your family plan to go hiking or camping soon.
A bite by venomous and non-venomous snakes is a common reason people call the poison center. In 2009, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported a total of 6,518 snake bites in the U.S.; most of which occurred in the southern and western states. Although snake bites occur less frequently in Illinois, it is still a major cause for concern due to the potential for serious injury if the snake is venomous.
- The copperhead –can be found in the southern part of Illinois, south of Route 16.
- The cottonmouth (also known as the water moccasin) – live in swamps and wet bottomlands in southern Illinois, south of Route 13.
- The timber rattlesnake – can be found in the southern part of the state (south of Interstate 64), mostly in the Illinois River Valley and the Mississippi River Valley.
- The eastern massasauga – can be found scattered within the counties of Madison, Clinton, Piatt, Knox, Warren, Will, Cook, and Lake.
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Envenomation by snakes in the Crotalinae group can inflict significant injury and potentially life threatening symptoms:
- Local effects: rapid progressing swelling, severe pain, redness, a broken blood vessel or bruised appearance, large vesicles, bleeding and tissue ulceration or cell death.
- Systemic effects: tingling of the mouth, hands and feet, a drop in blood pressure or shock, respiratory failure, weakness and sweating, nausea and vomiting, and blood clotting abnormalities which may lead to profound bleeding.
We recommend that anyone with a known or suspected bite by one of these four snakes be immediately transported to the nearest emergency room. Treatment may include intravenous fluids, wound care, frequent lab tests, and possibly administration of an anti-venom specific for Crotalinae snakes or blood products.
Don’t forget, a variety of non-poisonous snakes also inhabit the Land of Lincoln. And while they are not venomous, they will bite if provoked. Non-poisonous snakes in Illinois include the black rat snake, prairie king snake, bull snake, and common garter snake.
Here are some very important “do’s and don’ts” that will either help you avoid a snake bite or ensure that you will be a snake’s next victim – your choice.
Ways to AVOID a snake bite:
- When you encounter a snake, back off! Venomous snakes are not aggressive and tend to bite people only when stepped on, picked up or cornered.
- Choose your pets wisely. Avoid dangerous animals, such as poisonous snakes or pythons. Some daring people keep pythons (boa constrictor) as house pets. Pythons are non-venomous, however can inflict painful bite injuries .
- All individuals regardless of gender or age should take proper precautions when hiking or camping in areas where snakes reside.
- Wear leather boots.
- Do not reach under rocks or logs.
- Do not step over rocks or logs, and look around before you sit.
Ways to GET a snake bite:
- Attempt to handle, touch, move, or feed a wild snake.
- Purchase poisonous snakes as pets. An astounding amount of snake bites reported in Illinois were courtesy of non-native species to Illinois.
- Demonstrate your machismo by overpowering, handling or trapping dangerous and poisonous reptiles. Eventually you will regret it.
- Handle a (presumably) dead venomous snake, as they may still deliver a dangerous bite.
If bitten by a snake, the patient should:
- Immobilize the affected limb.
- Remove any jewelry such as rings, bracelets and watches.
- Be transported to the nearest emergency department immediately.
Remember do not apply ice or heat, tight tourniquet, electric shocks, conduct oral suctioning, or make incisions to the bite area for crotaline snakes.
Bites and stings by reptiles, spiders, bees and wasps, exotic fish etc. are poisoning emergencies. The medical experts at the Illinois Poison Center are available (1-800-222-1222) to assist the general public and health professionals in the assessment and management of poison emergencies. So before you head out for your next camping expedition, be sure to program our number in your cell phone! Be safe this summer and watch where you step!
By: Vadim Nikitin, PharmD candidate and Tony Burda, R.Ph, DABAT