Thirteen snakebite victims were admitted to Texas Health Resources hospitals across North Texas within the first three months of this year, and while that is only one bite more than was reported over the same period of time in 2018, the number of patients surged a month earlier this year.
Amanda Uffman, spokeswoman for Texas Health Resources, said the hospital system saw the largest jump in reported bites in April and May of previous years.
According to data from the National Agricultural Safety Database, roughly half of all bites from venomous snakes are dry bites, meaning the snake does not inject venom.
Additionally, only about 0.2% of snakebites prove fatal in the country each year.
Glenn Hardesty, an emergency physician with Texas Health Neighborhood Care & Wellness Prosper, admits he’s not an expert on snakes, but he’s seen and treated his share of bite victims over the years.
In addition to snakes, he’s treated bites from porcupines, hedgehogs, bobcats, raccoons and other animals.
He said copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes are the most common culprits for venomous bites in North Texas.
Based on his experience, people tend to run into copperheads within residential areas, while rural areas are more likely to have rattlesnakes. Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, typically do their name justice and stick to aquatic areas.
Hardesty said those are just generalities. For example, he said, you “can run into a water moccasin in the middle of a hay field.”
His biggest recommendation to avoid getting bit is simple: Mind your surroundings.
Snakes seek out warmth and are drawn to concrete for its heat retention. Hiking trails offer plenty of hiding spots, as do hedges and exterior crawl spaces.
“Snake boots are well worth their weight in gold if you’re ever bitten by a snake,” he said. Depending on quality of the gold being weighed, and factoring in both the cost of antivenom and the luxury of being bite-free, that statement could be taken literally.
He said there are a couple of common misconceptions about what to do if you’re bitten.
“You really can’t suck [venom] out, and putting a tourniquet on [the bite] is not a great idea either,” Hardesty said.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommends only those with experience in applying tourniquets should consider using one for a snakebite, and only in extreme situations.
Another fairly common mistake is made when people try to capture an offending snake to show doctors exactly what bit them. By doing so, people risk being bit again.
In fact, Hardesty was once bitten by a nonvenomous snake when members of a local fire department brought the critter in question in a sealed bucket.
“We opened it up and this thing just jumped out of there like one of those snakes in a peanut can,” he said.
Even if somebody doesn’t know what kind of snake bit them, Hardesty said doctors in the area use an antivenom combination to treat bites from the three snakes common locally, so people who get to the hospital quickly aren’t in much danger of death.
“The exception might be if somebody is keeping a pet cobra or pet mamba and they’re bitten,” he said. Doctors won’t have antivenom for exotic or non-native snakes.
Finally, Hardesty said the worst thing people can do is wait after being bitten: “Don’t try to take care of a snakebite at home.”