Planning yard work? Watch out for copperheads

Updated: Oct. 15, 2019 at 6:50 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - With a wave of rain this workweek and cooler temperatures this weekend, you might be planning a project in the yard. If so, make sure you’re protecting yourself from North Carolina’s most common venomous snake, the copperhead.

Dr. Michael Buehler, is Medical Director of the North Carolina Poison Control. This year Poison Control had close to one hundred calls for snake bites across all of Mecklenburg County. Of those, Dr. Buehler thinks, eighty-eight were potentially venomous. He says the most common way to encounter a copperhead is doing daily activities around your home.

“It’s not hiking, it’s not doing something exotic. It is people getting bitten doing gardening or walking around at their yard at night and can’t see. People are reaching where they can’t see. They didn’t see a snake there, that’s probably the most common scenario we see,” Buehler said of snake bites.

He reminds us, copperheads have mastered their ability to camouflage themselves.

“If it’s cooling down, they might find a rock to lay on. They use their camouflage to blend in, and they are very good at it! They hide in leaves and yard debris. So there are a lot of places where they can be!”

Earlier this month, 2-year-old Atlas Johnson was walking behind his dad, in Conway when the toddler yelped.

“We were walking down the driveway and we were walking to the car. I stepped off the concrete first and as soon as Atlas stepped off behind me he got bit by a snake right here. Struck him in the back of the leg and I handed him of to his mother and we seen in the light the two fang marks,” Gregory Johnson remembers.

The parents did exactly what Dr. Buehler recommends with young children. He says, because it’s hard for them to recall what a snake looked like, it’s best to just take them to the emergency room to get checked out. Because of their size, snake bites can be especially hard on young kids, like Atlas.

“Children are smaller and you’re putting the same amount of venom into a smaller limb. So the limb can potentially be more swollen,” Buehler explained, pointing out snakes decide how much venom they’ll inject. So if they’ve been provoked, they will likely give a heavy dose.

However, not all copperhead strikes are created equally!

For the snake, it’s about provocation, and the next meal, according to Dr. Buehler.

“Because the copperhead venom takes a while for the snake to make and it needs that venom to eat, if it wastes all that venom on you, and it can’t eat YOU, now it can’t eat."

On those occasions, Buehler says the snake may give a person a warning strike.

His advice in the yard this fall, wear boots if you’re in yard debris. Make sure you look before you reach under something. If you’re out in the yard at night, use a flashlight.

Most importantly, if you see a snake, give it space.

if you are bitten by a snake and you have serious symptoms right away, get to the hospital.

If you have only minor symptoms call poison control and speak with a specialist. The phone line is manned 24/7.

Dr, Buehler wanted to make sure you don’t make things worse if you are bitten by a copperhead.

“Make sure we don’t take any first aid steps that are the wrong thing that can make things worse. We do not want you to ice it, (the bite). We do not want you to tourniquet it . Those are going to worsen your limb outcome,” the doctor explained.

If you’ve been bitten by a snake, you should immediately call Poison Control’s Fast Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

For more information, click here.

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