Summer means a lot of different things to people; one thing it means to us at the IPC—snake season! There are over 6,000 snake bites reported to the nation’s poison centers annually, and we tend to see many of them in the warmer months. There are 4 venomous snakes indigenous to Illinois (read about those here). Those are the biters, but what about the ‘bitees’? What is the epidemiology of snake bite victims? Oftentimes a snake bite victim’s characteristics can be described in 6 Ts…
You may think that most snake bites occur in the wild, where an unsuspecting person happens upon a venomous snake that is just waiting for the opportunity to dine on human flesh. Alas, over 67% of bites in one study occurred because the person was intentionally handling the snake (usually a pet) and 22% had been bitten previously.
My first 2 years of pharmacy school, my roommate had a pet snake. It was a small salmon-colored corn snake. It was not venomous, which was fortunate because it somehow managed to escape its tank about every third week or so. Once it was missing for 2 weeks; we thought it had gone for good until we found it in the desk drawer. Luckily it never bit anyone…
What good is a pet snake if you can’t play with it? Unfortunately if you have a venomous snake that isn’t into it, a serious bite could result. Studies report between 60%-70% of bites occur on an upper extremity, usually the finger or hand. Someone who inadvertently steps on a snake in the wild would be expected to be bit on the legs or feet.
One of the most memorable snake bite calls we received here at IPC involved a man getting bit by his pet snake on his lip. This is purely conjecture, but I bet he was making a kissy face at it…
Alcohol is involved in 50-65% of snake bites where the person is intentionally handling the snake. I love me a stiff drink as much as the next overworked pharmacist, but there are a few things that definitely don’t mix with booze. Driving is one, venomous snakes are another.
This one is less rigorously studied. Anecdotal reports show that 25-50% of snake bite patients are tattooed. This statistic is also a little out of date. A lot more of us young, adventurous, risk-taking types have tattoos these days.
As in, very casually dressed. One study reported that approximately 50% of snake bite victims were unemployed. Take from that what you will.
Even if you don’t fall into the 6Ts of a snake bite, you aren’t totally out of the woods. Completely sober un-tattooed women do get bit by wild snakes too! Be sure the number to the IPC (1-800-222-1222) is in your phone just in case (especially if you have a pet snake!).