Understanding and Avoiding Them + The Cost of Treatment for a Venomous Bite
While the end of summer is a favorite time of year for a lot of Carolinians, as the sizzling daytime heat slowly subsides, and the evenings inch their way towards porch-sitting weather... there is one down side.
It's baby copperhead season.
Copperhead females only have one litter per year, most often between mid-August and mid-September - though some babies are a born a bit later, even into October. Each litter can contain anywhere from two to eighteen snakes, and the baby snakes are born live - not hatched from eggs - measuring eight to ten inches long.
They come into the world equipped with fangs and fully able to bite and inject venom. The tricky thing is, baby snakes have less control over how much venom they release in a bite. This is one reason people might say getting bitten by a baby copperhead is worse, even though baby snakes don't have as much venom at their disposal as mature snakes.
Adult copperheads can and usually do control the amount of venom they release, in their own self-interest of keeping a reserve available. If they're biting prey, they release more than if they're defending themselves.
"The copperhead is the most common and widespread venomous snake in North Carolina. In many areas, including most of the larger urban regions, it is the only venomous snake. Copperheads account for probably over 90 percent of venomous snakebites in North Carolina." - N.C. Wildlife Organization"
How Dangerous is a Copperhead Bite?
According to Jeff Beane, Herpetology Collections Manager at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, a copperhead bite often results in temporary tissue damage in the immediate area of the bite.Their bite may be painful but is very rarely - almost never - fatal to humans. Swelling of the area and pain are the most common symptoms.
He advises anyone who is bitten by a copperhead to seek medical attention, and notes that children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems may have strong reactions to any snake venom.
Copperheads account for roughly 90% of the venomous snake bites in North Carolina.
The Cost to Treat a Venomous Snake Bite
In June of 2020, the Charlotte News & Observer ran a story on a 17-year-old snakebite victim. The teenager had been out collecting wood in his yard and was bitten by a copperhead. His mother called 911, and he was rushed to the emergency room and hospitalized for treatment. The teen's hand swelled up so much that he could hardly move his fingers, but the treatment worked, and he recovered completely.
His mother got the bill from the hospital and couldn't believe it.
$200,000 of the $225,000 charged was for the twelve vials of anti-venom that were used during treatment. The family (luckily) had insurance, and ended up only being responsible for $175 of the total bill.
“For many years, antivenom has been a very high-cost drug that is produced in limited quantities, leading to the high cost paid by hospitals.” - Duke Health
Duke Health provides the drug at a 70% discount for people who do not have insurance, and depending on the person’s financial circumstances, the balance may be written off.
So there you have it! Another reason to avoid being bitten.
Tips to Stay Safe
- Be vigilant! Copperhead snakes blend in well with their surroundings. Constantly scan the ground (or road) in front of you.
- Wear closed-toed shoes and long pants when walking in tall grass or forested areas.
- Be aware that snakes will often align themselves with logs, or landscape timbers in order to hunt. Don't step over these without checking the other side.
- Never reach your hand or kick your foot into an area you can't see. The majority of snake bites happen when snakes are surprised and strike defensively.
- Snakes often come emerge in late afternoon and around dusk. Be extra cautious during these times, and at night.
- Always use a flashlight when walking at night
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