Watch your step – Snakebites on the rise in Georgia for 2017

Take care, Atlanta residents, and watch your step this summer – you don’t want to accidentally tread on someone! Well, more accurately, somesnake. According to an 11Alive news article, snakebites have been on the rise in Georgia since the beginning of the year. With the number of snakebites that have been reported to Georgia Poison Control this year—55 between January and April—we’re on track to break a record.

The 11Alive article reports that Gaylord Lopez, Director of Georgia Poison Control, said that 55 people were bitten in January to May alone, which is a 50% increase over the number of snakebites for that time frame in 2016. In 2016, Lopez said, there were 500 snakebites total—but we’re well on our way to beating that number this year.

With these troublingly snakey stats in mind, let’s talk about what you need to know about snakes and snakebites.

How bad are snakebites from venomous snakes?

Plenty of people aren’t the biggest fans of snakes, but in the article Lopez pointed out that snakebites rarely kill people. There have been only two deaths from snakebites in the past eight or nine years. However, snakebites are not cheap to treat. Antivenom vials can run from $15,000 and $20,000, and most patients need between four and six vials.

In case you were wondering, there are six venomous snakes that live in Georgia: The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, the copperhead, the Pigmy Rattlesnake, the Timber Rattlesnake, the Eastern Coral Snake, and the cottonmouth (aka water moccasin).

Why are the snakes biting now?

Lopez points to the warm, mild winter we had this year. Snakes don’t like cold weather, so when it’s warmer they like to come out and slither around. Most snakebites occur in wooded areas or areas near water, but you can still find snakes in the Metro Atlanta area.

Why my house?

Snakes are most attracted to homes with low, thick ground cover like ivy. In an AJC article, Jason Clark of Southeastern Reptile Rescue recommended that homeowners remove low shrubs and leaf piles if they are worried about snakes. He also cites homes with birdfeeders as attracting snakes—squirrels and mice like to hang around birdfeeders, and snakes are looking for a meal. Also, water sources around the home can attract snakes.

In the same article, John Jensen of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section said that nonvenomous snakes are actually very important to the ecosystem, as they keep invasive species in check by eating them. So, you might want to think twice about beheading the offensive creature that’s wandered into your yard. Jensen also reminded us that killing a nonvenomous snake is actually illegal in Georgia.

What should I do if I see a snake?

Jensen said that the best thing to do if you encounter a snake, venomous or not, is to get out of the snake’s space. Just stay calm and put some distance between you and your slithery friend. The snake most likely won’t pursue you, and so long as it’s not threatened it’ll probably leave you alone.

What should I do if someone around me gets bitten, or if I get bitten?

Lopez advised getting a snakebite victim to the hospital ASAP. An AJC article entitled “Boo Hiss to Venom: Snakebite Prevention and Care in Georgia” notes that even if you’re pretty sure that the snake that bit you wasn’t venomous, you still need to go to the hospital for treatment, as the area could get infected.

The Mayo Clinic has some snakebite do’s and don’ts:

DO stay calm and move the victim out of range.

DO take off jewelry or clothing that’s tight-fitting — the area might swell a lot.

DO try to get the victim positioned so that bite is at or below the level of their heart.

DO clean the wound, but don’t flush it out (the doctors will want to know what kind of venom is affecting the victim). Instead, cover it with a clean, dry dressing.

DO NOT use ice or a tourniquet.

DO NOT cut or suck on the wound.

DO NOT give the victim alcohol or caffeine, as this will cause their body to absorb the venom faster.

DO NOT try to apprehend the snake. It could bite again if it feels threatened.

So, there you have it: a crash course in snake-ology. Snakes are a part of life in Georgia, as we have lots of them around. So, if you’re planning to be outside this summer, you might want to take some extra care to avoid being bitten by something with fangs.


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