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Topic: Copperhead Bite

I thought I would share an email exchange I've had recently that concerns a Copperhead bite:

>>> Hello- thank you for your very complete and informative website. I was bitten on my right ankle last Sunday by an adult copperhead - I'm doing pretty well despite the swelling. Doc says I should make a full recovery. But I am wondering, since I live in such a snaky area (near Beaver Lake), how much protection from future bites I might now have. And is this protection only from copperhead bites or will it extend to cottonmouths, timber and pigmy rattlers? Guess I'm looking for the silver lining in this.
>>> The rascal bit me right off my back deck at dusk. I always look, but I simply couldn't see him as he blended it so well.  A stick and a flashlight will be my constant companions from now on!
>>> Oh, and one more thing - have you noticed increased snake activity this year? Lots of people have told me, now that I'm bitten, that they've seen a lot more snakes than usual. Drought?
>>>
>>> Anyway, thanks for your help. And keep up the good work!
>>>
>>> Thanks,
>>> Carol

>> Hey Carol,
>> Sorry to hear about your bite.  I wish you success in your recovery.  Copperheads, while only "mildly" venomous, can cause lots of swelling and pain.  You probably don't think it was too "mild" right now!  (But in comparison to others, it is.)  Was anti-venom given?
>>
>> Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that this single bite would afford any protections for future bites.  In fact, it is much more likely to have the opposite effect, leaving you more susceptible to an allergic reaction to the venom.
>>
>> Copperheads are more active around dusk, so be sure to carry that flashlight since you KNOW they are around!  I think there is actually less activity due to the drought for *most* snake species, but I have seen plenty of Copperheads, so it doesn't seem to be slowing them down much.
>>
>> The subject of snakebite has come up a couple of times recently on the forums; I'm sure people could benefit from your story.  Also, if I might ask...I've been interested in posting some snakebite pics.  I think these are great reminders of why we do NOT want to get bitten!  So if you happen to take a few pics (even if it is a week after the bite), I'd be very interested in those.
>>
>> Thanks for sharing and get well!
>>
>> -Kory

> Dear Kory,
>
> Thanks so much for your reply. As usual, the information I've heard about snakebite is incorrect. At least three people, including the doctor, indicated that I would have more protection from future bites. ****.
>
> I am healing quite well, though I cannot yet walk or bend my ankle much. The swelling is much lessened (this is day 5). I have not taken photos yet, but I will have someone do so today - if they show much, I will be happy to let you use them. There is little discoloration now and the swelling is about half of what is was two days ago. He (she) must not have been very pissed off.
>
> My neighbors drove me to the hospital in Eureka Springs immediately, though the drive still takes about 30 minutes. I had an ice pack on it, which I later learned was not the best thing to do, but I did have the leg propped up in the back seat. The doctor on call actually wheeled me into the emergency room, so care was quick. Sometimes little-town hospitals actually have their advantages! I thought their care, concern and treatment stellar.
>
> Treatment did not include anti-venom, since I was able to identify the snake as a copperhead. I did immediately get a steroid shot, a tetanus shot, antibiotic pill and vicodin/hydrocodone. The doctor wanted to keep me overnight, but not having insurance and being in good health, I was only willing to let them keep me for a couple of hours. My neighbors took me home about midnight and installed me in their guest room. I did throw up about 2 a.m., but I truly think it was from the pain-killer. Once that was out, I was fine in the way of nausea. The pain was very manageable as long as I didn't try to walk. Tylenol would have handled it for me - hydrocodone was overkill.
>
> That first night and throughout the following day, the swelling increased dramatically, and eventually went all the way up to the top of my thigh. That lasted for three days - the fourth day, the swelling began to subside but I felt more nauseous and flu-like that day than I had at any other time..
>
> Today, my whole leg is sore and tired. I can see some creases in my ankle and toes. My leg no longer looks like a newborn baby's. The bite area is still very swollen, and it appears the snake hit me twice as there are four fang marks. But I certainly only felt it hit once. The bite area is above the ankle bone on the outside of the right leg, so I can't see it all that well.
>
> Hope this helps - if this will help others, please share it.
>
> And thanks again for your information - it is comforting.
>
> Sincerely,
> Carol

Thanks for the details, Carol.  I appreciate your willingness to share this story with others.

From what I know about snakebite, it sounds like the treatment was pretty standard and appropriate.  In this case, antivenom would have been inappropriate given that the bite was not severe.  (I have this dread that if I'm ever snakebitten the doctor will go straight to the antivenom without giving enough careful consideration to the circumstances.)

To return to the immunity question...honestly, it's a toss-up.  You've been exposed to those toxins, which means your body *should* establish some countermeasures (i.e. antibodies) to fight those toxins better in the future.  On the other hand, you've been exposed to those toxins, which means your body *could* overreact to those toxins upon future exposure (i.e. an allergic reaction).  I think snake venom is something humans can easily develop an allergy to, though I don't really know of research to back me up on that.

Here's wishing you well on your road to full recovery!

-Kory

Kory Roberts: Email | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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Re: Copperhead Bite

It's good to hear the envenomation was not significant and I would suspect antivenin was not given due to this, along the fact that it's not readily available in Arkansas pharmacies.
As for immunity to future envenomations, it would take regular, almost daily, minute exposure in low concentrations to develop such and you are correct in your belief there is a potential for developing an allergy to the offending protein. I would also like to note that envenomation is not the only method of exposure, as anyone working with venomous specimens is at risk of developing an allergy to venom when coming into contact with such via enclosure maintenance, as dried venom can become airborne and inhaled, causing anything from a mild allergic reaction to life threatening anaphylaxis. It is also interesting to note that you might have no problems the first time or first one hundred times you incur such an exposure, but there is always the possibility of such an occurrence. Even the likes of venom research pioneers Bill Haast and Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry has developed allergies to a few venoms and must take precautions when working with such.
It appears we are seeing quite a few incidents of venomous snake bites this year, as we have seen several come through the UAMS and ACH ERÂ?s, the most recent incidence created quite a stir as the snake was brought in under the pretense it was dead. You can imagine the commotion which ensued when the holding container was opened to reveal a very much alive, though wounded Agkistrodon contortix

Best regards,

Jeff

Jeff Snodgres
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
snodgresjeffreys@uams.edu
501.744.2553

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Re: Copperhead Bite

Yeehaw! Not to make total light of the situation, but "Snakes in the ER " sounds like such a better movie than Snakes on a Plane....don't you think?

We've also seen an influx of snakebites in our immediate area.

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Re: Copperhead Bite

We've also seen an influx of snakebites in our immediate area.

Just got off the phone with a reporter for the Madison County Record...   His main question was about the higher incidence of snakebite in that area as well.  All Copperheads as far as he knew.  Looks like it's going to be a bad year.  Blame it on global warming!  HA!

Kory Roberts: Email | Facebook | Flickr | YouTube

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Re: Copperhead Bite

I am still leary of the chimps.

Any numbers on chimp attacks this year? are they up too?

Government is not the solution Government is the PROBLEM...Ronald Reagan

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Re: Copperhead Bite

Well, this confirms it.  They really are out to get us lol  I guess I'll just have to freak out and jump up and down the next time I see a snake.  wink

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Re: Copperhead Bite

I like to blame the increased incidence of venomous snake bites on the rising gas prices. As gas prices increase, more people are looking for "free" vacation opportunites closer to home, ofetn leading to a trip into the local forests and water holes, teh latter of which are being sought out by the local herpetofauna as well. ;0)

Best regards,

Jeff

Jeff Snodgres
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
snodgresjeffreys@uams.edu
501.744.2553

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Re: Copperhead Bite

All joking aside, this is a good reminder for those of us that live in the country (or city for that matter) and like to roam around the yard in the evening barefoot.  I've seen more than one copperhead, rattler, and cottonmouth in yards in my life.  Nothing to be scared of, just a reminder to be aware of our surroundings.  I've stepped close to venomous snakes several times without seeing them until the last second, so it could have just as easily been me.  Jeff may be on to something with the heat/drought and swimming hole theory.  No doubt the cottonmouths (and other snakes) and people are a little more concentrated together than normal.