There are many great things about living in the Brazos Valley, but one negative is that we must avoid 4 varieties of venomous snakes that also call the Brazos Valley home. These are Coral Snakes, Copperhead Snakes, Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth) Snakes and Rattle Snakes (primarily Timber Rattle Snakes and Western Diamondback Rattle Snakes). Venomous bites are rare but are most common in the spring and early summer months, so it’s a good time to brush up on what to do if we receive a venomous snake bite.
Most importantly, snake bites are not as deadly as we tend to believe. Secondly, bites of any severity are much less common than we tend to believe. In fact, a Texan is 5 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than from a snake bite. The odds of dying from a bite is about 1 in 20 million! Given how rare it is to be harmed by snakes and considering that they are important members of our ecosystems we certainly shouldn’t kill snakes simply due to the tiny chance they might harm us. This is especially true since the majority of snakes we kill for this reason aren’t even venomous and their populations are declining. In most cases, it’s best just to appreciate them from safe distance and leave them alone!
Coral Snake Bites
Fortunately, one of the four venomous snakes is only of minor concern. The coral snake, while dangerous, is rarely encountered and not aggressive. Interestingly, they are related to King Cobras and Black Mambas but are much less deadly. In fact, there has only ever been a single death attributed to a Texas Coral Snake bite. Its neurotoxin caused the victim to stop breathing. Despite the rarity of death from a Coral Snake bite, the venom contains a neurotoxin and any bite from a coral snake should be taken seriously and should prompt a visit to the emergency department.
While not the most common bite in our area, Rattlesnake bites tend to be the most serious. Rattlesnakes also tend to be more aggressive when threatened. Their bites tend to inject larger amounts of venom that is more potent than the other snakes in the area and should always prompt a visit to the emergency room. They frequently require treatment with antivenom and admission to the hospital.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) Snake Bites
Less common and somewhat less deadly than Rattlesnake Bites, Cottonmouth bites can be serious, occasionally cause death, and require evaluation at an emergency room. They often require treatment with antivenom and admission to the hospital.
Copperhead Snake Bites
By far, the most common venomous snake bite in our area is from Copperhead Snakes. Fortunately, their venom is not highly potent. However, they must still be taken seriously as significant illness, injury to muscles or organs, or even death can result. There have only been a handful of documented deaths from Copperhead Snake bites, but they frequently cause significant pain and disability, which can last for weeks.
Historically, although antivenom for Copperhead Snake Bites has been readily available, it was rarely used. However, this is changing as the safety of the antivenom has been increasingly demonstrated and the degree of disability, though mostly temporary, has been better appreciated. The decision to administer antivenom is determined by a doctor and based on several findings, including symptoms, physical examination and lab work. For this reason, it is important for all Copperhead Snake bites to be seen in the ER.
What To Do If Bitten?
If you are the unlucky victim of a snake bite, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do. Fortunately, the recommendations for what to do after a snake bite have become simpler over time. Historically, there were many recommendations, most of which were old wife’s tales. Nearly all of which should be avoided. To clear some of these up, please do not:
- Cut the skin in the area of the bite.
- Attempt to suck the venom out with your mouth or any device (such as the suction cups found in “snakebite kits”).
- Urinate on the bite.
- Use electric shock to the area of the bite to “neutralize” the toxin.
- Apply a tourniquet or compression device of any type.
In fact, there is very little that has been shown to help that you need to do. Please:
- Stay calm. Almost nobody dies from a snake bite and nearly all bites that receive treatment are safely treated even hours after the bite occurred.
- Elevate the bitten body part to the level of the heart or above. This reduces swelling and tissue damage.
- Remove any constricting clothing or jewelry (especially rings) as snake bites cause large amounts of swelling
- Seek evaluation in an emergency department. ER doctors are trained to evaluate and treat venomous snake bites and hospitals have access to antivenom when needed.
At CapRock, our doctors are all from the Brazos Valley area and have all treated many snake bites. Please contact us so we can help you and your loved ones.