Snakebite season started early

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Standing in knee-high prairie grass, Raymond Clark stared at the stars that soared over his 40-acre spread near Rio Vista in unincorporated Johnson County.

Clark had slipped into flip-flops as he left the house about 10 p.m. Sunday to bring his wife’s pet cow up to its pen. About 15 minutes later, he had turned off both flashlights he carried to better see the constellations. After a few moments, he took a step backward into a nightmare.

“It felt like someone grabbed my right foot with a pair of pliers and squeezed real hard,” he said.

Clark didn’t see the snake that bit his middle toe, but his trauma surgeon, Dr. William Witham, believes it was a copperhead.

The 51-year-old truck driver was the 10th snakebite victim admitted since April 20 into the trauma center at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, said Lance Zimmet, a trauma center charge nurse. The same number of snakebites had been treated by this time last year, but Zimmet said it seems like the snakebite season starts earlier each year.

“Usually, it’s June 1 through October,” Zimmet said.

Daytime snakebites should decrease this time of year, because temperatures hovering around 100 degrees tend to drive the reptiles underground or under anything else that provides cool shade, said Mark Pyle, education director for Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society.

“In the summer, they come out at night,” he said. “So the best way for someone to get bit this time of year is to go outside at night with no protection on their feet.”

Clark and another snakebite victim being treated Tuesday at Harris Fort Worth had that in common, Zimmet said.

“Circumstances surrounding both [snakebite] patients in trauma ICU right now include unprotected feet, tall grass and dusk,” he said.

Both of those bites were from copperheads, which Witham said is the most common.

“For the last four years we’ve seen a lot more copperheads [biting people] than rattlesnakes,” he said. “It used to be the opposite. I’ve heard some people suggest that it’s because the feral hogs are eating rattlesnakes.”

Copperheads are the most common snakebite culprits in Tarrant County and the surrounding areas, agreed Bret Johnson, an urban wildlife biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“Part of it’s because of the Trinity River and associated tributaries running through the Metroplex,” he said. “Pretty much anywhere along them you’ll find copperheads.”

There are about 30 nonvenomous snake species in the Metroplex, Johnson said. “So the vast majority of snakes people see out there are nonvenomous,” he said.

The indigenous venomous species are rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouth water moccasins and coral snakes, Johnson said.

“If you see red, yellow and black bands, that’s a coral snake,” he said. “Red and black bands are milk snakes. There will be a little white on the milk snakes, too.”

But Johnson suggested not getting close enough to a snake to see such detail. They’re best left alone.

“Yes, accidental bites do occur, but they’re rare,” he said. “The vast majority of bites result from handling in some capacity. Surprisingly we get a number of bites from people trying to kill the snakes.”

The worst bite Pyle has seen was from a copperhead that struck a friend of his who was cleaning up debris around a shed on his Johnson County property only a few weeks ago.

“He wasn’t wearing gloves,” Pyle said. “He took 20 vials of anti-venom and had to have skin grafts.”

Pyle’s friend was the only snakebite victim treated this year at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, said spokeswoman Mary Johnson.

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas has seen only one snakebite victim this year, said spokeswoman Catherine Bradley. She said there were four in 2012 and 10 in 2011.

At John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, three people have been treated this year for venomous snakebites, said spokeswoman Kristen Newcomer.

Full recovery

Treated first at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne, Clark was treated with four vials of CroFab — at about $2,200 per vial — before an ambulance delivered him early Monday morning to the Fort Worth hospital. Overnight, he was given six more, Witham said.

“There was quite a bit of swelling that had progressed up to his groin,” Witham said.

Clark still has a lot of sensitivity around the bite, but the swelling has decreased dramatically. He was being moved out of ICU on Tuesday and was expected to recover completely, said hospital spokeswoman Megan Brooks.

“He’s doing so well he could possibly go home tomorrow,” she said.

As Clark’s caretakers were deciding what regular hospital room to move him into, another snakebite victim was brought into the emergency room.

The person was working in a flowerbed at a house in Glen Rose and was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake at about 10:30 a.m., Brooks said.


Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Try to remember the color and shape of the snake. Identification can help with treatment.

Keep still and calm to slow down the spread of venom.

If you can’t get to the hospital immediately

Lie or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.

Wash the bite with soap and water.

Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

Do not

Pick up the snake or try to trap it.

Wait for symptoms to appear before seeking medical attention.

Apply a tourniquet.

Slash the wound with a knife and suck out the venom.

Apply ice to the wound or immerse it in water.

Drink alcohol to ease pain.

Drink caffeinated beverages.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Prevent snakebites

Wear boots and long pants when walking in tall grass.

Use extra caution around wood piles and rocks.

“Dead” snakes can still bite, even if the head is cut off.

Source: Texas Health Harris Methodist Injury Prevention

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans

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