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!
>> 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!
> 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.
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!