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‘Anyone can be bitten just about anywhere’: Venomous snake bites are rising in NC

Venomous snake bites are on the rise in North Carolina in 2019, according to the medical director of North Carolina Poison Control.

“I have run our numbers, and we can say with near certainty that we are having an increase in venomous snake bites since the beginning of the year,” Dr. Michael Beuhler said in an article on Atrium Health’s “Daily Dose” blog.

“Of greater interest, we are having a significant increase in the number of calls from January to April (62) over previous years (average 37) for about a 67 percent increase in venomous bite calls,” Beuhler said in the article.

Victims were of all ages, according to the article.

“Forty percent of NC Poison Control patients were 60 or over or under 18, meaning children and those older are just as likely to be bitten,” according to the blog article. “A surprising amount of bites were also found in urban areas. Anyone can be bitten just about anywhere.”

The Atrium Health article did not break down the number of bites by the varieties of venomous snakes found in the state —copperhead; cottonmouth, also called water moccasin; and the eastern diamondback, pigmy and timber rattlesnakes.

The copperhead is the most common venomous snake in the Carolinas, according to environmental health officials in both states.

In the blog, Beuhler said several factors could explain the increase in reported bites, including simply that more people are calling for help after a bite. Increased human-snake interaction could also play a role, according to the article.

“While there are other possibilities — such as the wet winter North Carolina experienced or an increase in the amount of available food sources for snakes — Dr. Beuhler hesitates to make any grand conclusions,” according to the article.

Most important from Beuhler’s perspective, according to the article, is “educating people about preventing bites and treating bites after they happen.”

How to prevent a bite? “Basics like good footwear, a flashlight, and not putting your arms and legs in places you can’t fully see are important,” Beuhler said.

“Antagonizing the snake in any way, such as picking it up or throwing something at it only increases your chances of being bitten,” Beuhler said. “Instead, leave the snake alone, stay at least six feet away from it, and give it some space to move.

“There’s no reason to try to kill it,” the doctor continued in the article. “After all, the environment is still reliant upon snakes to keep rodent populations in check.”

About half of all copperhead bites are “dry,” meaning the snake has released no venom or just a “very mild amount,” Beuhler said the the blog post.

Snake bite victims not experiencing life-threatening symptoms should call poison control at 800-222-1222 to get free “appropriate initial treatment recommendations,” according to Beuhler. If treatment at a hospital is required, poison control staff will call a health care facility for you.

Beuhler is scheduled to discuss the rise in snake bites at a news conference on Wednesday at the North Carolina Poison Control office in Charlotte.

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