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Keeping You Safe: Identifying, treating snake bites

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 7:41 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - You better watch where you step because snakes are out this time of year.

A mix of warmer weather and cicadas are bringing out the slithering serpents, and there are several to watch out for in South Carolina.

The snakes that are most prevalent in the area include copperhead, rattlesnake, cottonmouth (water moccasin) and coral.

You’re probably more likely to encounter them in a heavily wooded area or areas like state parks. Dr. Brian Doherty, a third-year Emergency Medicine resident at Grand Strand Medical Center, said they could also slither around your home but it’s not as likely.

Should a snake bite you, look at the marks to tell what kind it is and whether it’s venomous.

“The copperheads, the rattlesnakes, the water moccasins are all pit viper. They use fangs for envenomation,” Doherty said.

Doherty said you’ll notice between two to four puncture wounds and start to feel immediate pain.

“The snake bite that’s a little bit different would be the coral snakes. They’re not pit vipers so they have multiple teeth, he said.

Don’t be fooled by the red, black and yellow scaled skin, as Doherty said they mimic other snakes.

“The snakes that are venomous are the ones where the bands are where the red and yellow are next to each other. The mimics are the snakes that have the red and black bands next to each other.”

If there’s venom, you’ll notice the pain and swelling within hours and the symptoms worsen, which include trouble breathing and possible blood clots.

“With the coral snakes in particular, they have a neurotoxin and so, we’d worry about your ability to continue to breathe and paralysis from that toxin,” Doherty said.

He recommends doing the following for a venomous snake bite:

  • Remove the snake immediately
  • Take pictures of the snake
  • Immobilize the affected area
  • Go to the hospital

“Twenty percent of snake bites are dry bites where there’s no release of envenomation into the body,” Doherty said. “Of the people that do get exposed to the venom, only about 10 percent of the people need the anti-venom. Most people do fine on their own.”

He also busted the myth about sucking or cutting the venom out.

“That’s never been shown to be helpful. It just puts people at increased risk,” said Doherty. “We see a fair number of bites every year around here but they are relatively an uncommon thing. You certainly shouldn’t live in fear of a snake bite.”

If a non-venomous snake bites you, Doherty said there’s always a risk of infection. He advises washing the bite with warm, soapy water and keep it clean and dry. Also, visit the doctor just to be safe.

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