Warm weather brings about unwelcome visitors
Published 6:49 pm Saturday, June 3, 2017
Summer is just around the corner and with warmer temperatures snakes will be slithering out of their winter homes to hunt for food, look for a mate or give birth. /// Assistant extension professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service Dr. Jessica Lynn Tegt writes in an extension center publication that people are most likely to encounter snakes in their yards, gardens and porches as well as when moving brush piles or stacked wood, so be aware and keep an eye out for them when working in the yard.
Snakebites are rare, but Tegt said it is important to know the difference between venomous or poisonous snakes and non-venomous or non-poisonous snakes.
Most poisonous snakes in the U. S. belong to the pit viper group, associate extension professor Dr. Bronson Strickland writes in an extension center publication.
These classifications include copperhead, cottonmouth and two major categories of rattlesnake. Pit viper snakes are described as having pits on their heads, vertical pupils, a triangular head, slim neck and a heavy body with a single row of scales on the underside of the tail.
“All pit vipers may vibrate their tail sections rapidly to make noise when threatened,” Strickland wrote.
In addition to these characteristics, rattlesnakes have a button on their tail with an added two to four segments for each year of age, copperheads have hourglass markings of brown, copper or ted on a tan body and adult cottonmouth snakes have a solid colored upper body that is olive brown or black and lighter underside.
Strickland’s extension center publication adds that is may be difficult to distinguish the physical difference between a cottonmouth and a non-poisonous water snake, so one may need to rely on the snake’s actions.
“A cottonmouth is usually more aggressive while a water snake will leave rapidly when threatened,” Strickland writes.
Cottonmouths will also raise their heads and show their fangs when threatened by an enemy.
“Most dangerous snake encounters can be prevented with common sense and awareness of your surroundings,” Tegt writes, “so always supervise children and pets in areas where there might be snakes, and teach children to respect animals and leave snakes alone. It is important to understand that snakes are vital parts of our ecosystems, and they should be respected, not feared.”
However, if you are bitten by a snake, the medical director of the emergency department at Merit Health River Region Dr. Eric Zoog says the first thing to do is determine if the snake is venomous.
If it is not, treat the wound by cleaning and bandaging, and watch for signs of infection, redness, swelling, pain and pus, he said.
“If it is venomous or you are unsure, seek medical attention,” Zoog said, and if it can be done safely, try to bring the snake to the Emergency Room.
Symptoms from a poisonous snakebite, Zoog said, depend on the toxins in the venom and how much venom is injected.
Copperheads, water moccasins and rattlesnakes from Mississippi release Crotalid venom, he said, while Elapic venom comes from coral snakes mostly found on the coast. (“Red on black, safe for Jack” or “Red on yellow kills a fellow”).
“The venom consists of proteins that can cause local tissue destruction, blood toxins and neurotoxins in different proportions based on the species of snake,” Zoog said, adding that pain is derived from the local tissue destruction, redness and swelling.
“Blood toxins can also cause bleeding and the neurotoxins can cause pain and if enough is present, paralyze the muscles of respiration (breathing),” he said.
If an emergency room is not near by, Zoog said to stay calm.
“Getting excited and the resulting increased elevated heart rate and blood pressure may only spread any venom that may be present.”
Zoog said using a tourniquet on a snakebite victim is not necessary and do not attempt to make an incision and remove the poison.
“Ice may help slow any spread,” he said, and added that the safest thing to do for the victim is transport them to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.
Zoog said, it is difficult to predict how long a patient may have before symptoms become serious or even life threatening since it depends upon the amount of venom present, the type of snake and what part of the body is bitten.
“Some areas are more vascular than others, therefore the venom may spread more rapidly,” Zoog said.
There are antivenins available to treat snakebites, Zoog said, adding that while they are now much more safe to use than in the past, they do come with possible side effects. “Therefore, this medicine is not used on every bite/patient. Typically, if patients begin to show evidence of significant envenomation, the antidote will be used. Surgery is now only very rarely necessary and should only be undertaken at a tertiary level hospital,” he said.