Shawnee doctors report increase in snakebites due to flooding, rain

Molly Kruse 405-214-3930 Twitter: @MollyKruse98
Provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Emergency room doctors in Shawnee are seeing an increase in snakebites this year as flooding and rain displaces snakes from their homes.

Snakebites happen more frequently as weather warms up, but people are seeking treatment for snakebites even earlier than normal this year. People are also encountering snakes in places they normally would not be, said Dr. A. C. Husen, the emergency department medical director at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Shawnee.

“A lot of the snakes have been displaced from their natural setting, and they’re looking for somewhere to go,” Husen said. “We recently had a snakebite, a gentleman, it was in his outside garage –– because the snakes are getting displaced from where they would normally [inhabit].”

The severity of a snakebite depends on whether the snake is venomous or not, as well as the size of a person, type of snake and the kind of bite -– but it’s always important to get medical attention, Husen said.

“They can cause serious injuries, they can cause death, so it is a very big deal,” Husen said.

If someone gets bitten, they should remove themselves from the situation, do local wound care, keep the body part with the bite at heart level or a little bit below it and get medical help. People shouldn’t try to kill the snake, because that could lead to another bite, Husen said.

Using over-the-counter snakebite kits or treating the snakebite oneself has not been proven to be beneficial, Husen said.

“The old tricks of cutting the wound open, sucking the venom out, is all false,” Husen said. “There’s no medical benefit to anything like that.”

The hospital first monitors a patient’s symptoms before treating their bite with antivenom. This is because antivenom is expensive –– it can cost up to $120,000 to treat a snakebite, depending on how many vials of antivenom are needed, Husen said.

SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital used to keep the most antivenom in the state, said Carla Tollett, communications and marketing consultant for SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital.

“Usually your bigger hospitals keep a lot but your smaller, rural hospitals will not because it is so expensive for us to keep it, and it’s an expensive treatment,” Tollett said.

Around 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by a venomous snake per year in the U.S., and about five of those bites are fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only seven species of snakes in Oklahoma are potentially harmful to humans, according to Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. The biggest offenders in Pottawatomie County are rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes and copperheads, Husen said.

It is not necessary to bring snakes into the hospital to show the doctor, because the doctor will treat a person’s snakebite, not the snake, Husen said.

“If it’s in a bucket, I’m not going to look at it,” Husen said.

Crystal Edie Bowie, who lives in the country near Tecumseh, was bitten by a copperhead outside her home in summer of 2015.

Bowie, a “country girl” who has seen up to 15 copperheads on her property in a summer, was bitten while looking at frogs in her yard at night, she said.

The bite turned out to be non-venomous, but Bowie said she still feels some effects of the bite in her foot four years later.

“I can’t believe of all people I got bit by a copperhead,” Bowie said. “I was always preaching to [my friends], ‘Be aware of your surroundings’ … if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.”

To avoid snakebites this summer, people should use caution when cleaning up debris, doing yardwork or walking in tall grass.

“Take a stick with you, a rake with you, and move that lumber, move that branch with a rake or something first so you can see if there’s anything underneath it, just to prevent from being bit,” Husen said.