Taking the sting out of snake bites
September 2, 2020
Local reports of increased snake sightings have created a hiss in Southern Maryland.
Gardening, hiking, simply going for a walk—few people hope to stumble upon a serpent. Still, it’s important to remember that most snakes only appear dangerous. Just two of the 27 species and subspecies found in the state contain medically significant venom, and only one—the copperhead—is typically spotted in Southern Maryland.
Snakes have an important role in the ecosystem and should be left alone. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, they serve as vital predators as well as prey. By consuming small, tick-carrying mammals, snakes help reduce the spread of Lyme disease by eliminating ticks from the environment. They’re also protected in the state.
Many people are bitten only while trying to capture or harm a snake—so if they’re not harassed, they will likely pass on by. If you do find yourself on a snake’s bad side, identifying its species is one of the key components to treating the bite.
“If you are bitten, get out of the danger zone quickly. Once you’re a safe distance away, you might want to try and snap a photo of the snake to help with identification,” said Dr. Jeremy Tucker, DO, emergency physician at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. “Even if you are certain the snake was not poisonous, it’s wise to seek medical treatment or see your doctor for a tetanus booster.”
Prevent snake bites:
- Use caution when working around brush piles or other debris
- Wear suitable clothing (long pants, heavy boots) outdoors, especially through tall grass or heavy brush
- If found, keep your distance—never handle a venomous snake, alive or dead
If you are bitten by a snake:
- Wash the bite with soap and water
- Remove tight clothing or jewelry
- Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart
- Seek medical attention
- Use a tourniquet
- Ice or apply any other type of cooling agent
- Make incisions around the wound
If you are bitten by a poisonous snake, seek medical attention immediately. Call 911 or Maryland Poison Control, which is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 800-222-1222.
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