South Georgia snake dangers

May 1, 2007

Albany--  Health and snake experts issue a warning-- Be on the look out for the slithering reptiles.  Monday, an 8-year-old South Georgia boy was rushed to the hospital after being bitten on the hand by a snake. With more people heading outside because of warmer temperatures, precautions should be increased as well.

Health experts say the most common snake bite is the pit viper bite from copperheads, rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Their venom is hemotoxic which can cause damage to the blood cells. However, that damage can be avoided if you're careful.

While many people would run away from these long, scaly reptiles, Ben Roberts makes a living taking care of them. "Just kind of what I fell into," said Roberts.

As Assistant Curator at Chehaw, Roberts comes in contact with several species both venomous and non-venomous. "I've been lucky enough over the last 12 years to work with anything from Kimono Dragons to Black Mambas, rattlesnakes, russells, vipers," said Roberts.

Some of the snakes found in cages at Chehaw could be lurking right in your backyard, giving you an unlucky chance to be bitten. "Most people are either bitten on the hands or on the feet," said Roberts.

If it happens, there should be no hesitation to head to an Emergency Room. "Most of us carry around the best snake bite treatment in the field in our pockets everyday and that's a set of car keys," said Phoebe Emergency Center Director Todd Braswell.

Braswell says use them to drive straight to the hospital.  He says it's not uncommon to see snake bites come into the ER, especially this time of year. "Fairly common. We see our share," said Braswell.

Treatment depends on what kind of snake and if its systemic or local envenomation. "If it's a local envenomation, usually we can just manage the patient's symptoms. If it's systemic, obviously that means the venom is moving throughout the body, the treatment is going to be a little more aggressive," said Braswell.

Aggressive treatment means using anti-venin.  Just how much depends on how severe the bite is. "The anti-venin will act immediately," said Braswell.

But Braswell says many bites can be immediately avoided. "A lot snake bites occur from people trying to handle the snake," said Braswell, "if you're not an expert, you can't determine if that snake is poisonous or not."

So leave the handling to the experts like Roberts. "99.9 percent of the time if you're not bothering them, they're not even going to bother with you," said Roberts.

He's been lucky so far. "No. Never been bitten. Knock on wood," said Roberts. And he wants others to be lucky as well.

Once again, if you're bitten, head straight to the emergency room or if you're far away from one, 911 may get you there even quicker. Remove any constrictive devices like rings, watches and shoes because you'll most likely swell up from the bite.

ER workers say deadly snake bites are rare. You can get rid of snake habitat around your home by keeping your lawn trimmed and getting rid of debris and wood piles.