It’s that time of the year again. No, I’m not talking about beach season; I’m talking about snake season. Did you know the American Association of Poison Control Centers received 6,158 snake bite calls in the U.S. in 2009 ?
We came across an interesting case in North Carolina recently where an individual was bitten by an eastern Garter snake, or Common Garter (Thamnophis sirtalis). Although she had side effects such as pain, swelling, redness, and discoloration around the bite mark, she did not need anti-venom, because this particular species of snake is non-poisonous. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, this snake is also found in Illinois, so we here at the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) thought it would be a good idea to refresh everybody’s memories on snake prevention tips, ways to identify potentially poisonous snakes, and what to do if you are bitten by a snake.
In Illinois there are currently 39 different species of snakes, of those species four are considered poisonous. The four venomous species are
Contrary to popular belief, there are currently no effective snake repellents. Old fashioned remedies such as pouring ammonia or spreading moth balls around your lawn has not been proven effective; all this has shown to do is make your home hazardous to children and smell really bad. Currently, the only ways to prevent snake bites is to remove their habitat and food source. Listed below are some ways to keep your home free of snakes.
- Keep your lawn mowed regularly. Tall grass can be a good habitat for snakes to take up shelter.
- Keep woodpiles off the ground. Woodpiles tend to be good nesting sites for rodents which are one of a snake’s favorite snacks.
- Keep the area around your house free of trash piles and rubbish. Where there is an open food source there will be mice, which in turn will attract snakes.
If you ever encounter a snake, back away slowly. Snakes are generally non-aggressive towards humans and only attack when cornered, stepped on, or handled. If you are hiking or camping, make sure to wear sturdy leather boots, so that if you come across a snake that tries to bite you around the ankle, the leather will make it more difficult for it’s fangs to reach your skin. Another safety tip is to avoid stepping over or reaching into or under logs or large rocks. You might find a very unpleasant surprise inside. If you are even bitten by a snake it’s important you follow these simple steps:
- Stay calm and still
- Call 911 immediately
- Try to remember features of the snake such as body shape and color. (DO NOT re-approach snake.)
- Apply clean or dry dressing to bite mark. (DO NOT apply ice, heat, or a tourniquet around bite mark as this may worsen the injury)
- Remove any jewelry such as ring, bracelets, or watches
When you arrive at the emergency department (ED) you may or may not be given anti-venom depending on your symptoms and whether the snake you described was considered poisonous or not. The four venomous snakes have very unique features that separate them from other non-venomous snakes. If you ever get close enough to see one of these scary creatures ( which we DO NOT recommend), here are some distinguishing features to look out for:
- A elliptical cat-like pupil
- A heat-sensing pit on each side of the head between the eye and nostril
- A single row of scales on the underside of the tail (non-venomous snakes possess a divided row of scales)
We here at the IPC are experts when it comes to all things toxic, and that includes poisonous bites and stings. You can contact us at 1-800-222-1222 for any questions about a potential poisoning. Click here for more information on general poison prevention.
Have a safe summer and watch where you step!
Morris Pearson, Jr., PharmD candidate and Tony Burda, R.Ph, DABAT
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