WakeMed physician believes pandemic lockdown may be factor in uptick of snakebites

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Triangle emergency room doctors said they’re seeing more snakebites than usual. It could be because the coronavirus pandemic has more people spending time outside.

WakeMed Emergency Physician Dr. Benjamin German said he’s seen more people than usual coming into the emergency department for snakebites.

“We’ve seen 16 so far this year in our Wakemed EDs. That’s a big number for this early in the year,” he said, adding that those 16 bites include only those confirmed to be from venomous snakes. In Wake County, that almost always means copperheads.

German said he isn’t surprised about the increase in bites.

“People being off work, being off school, doing more outdoor activities, I kind of figured we would probably see an increase.”

People aren’t the only ones getting bitten. Shannon Johnstone and Anthony Corriveau recently rushed their puppy, Stella Fruit Bat, to the emergency vet after a copperhead bit her.

Corriveau said he was walking the puppy and their other dog on retractable leashes when Stella got a little too curious.

“I saw her sniffing something up ahead and she looked startled or interested. Then I saw it was a snake that stretched out on the greenway, and its head was kind of cocked back. It was obviously a copperhead,” Corriveau said.

It soon became apparent the puppy had been bitten.

“She just started closing her eyes, getting really lethargic,” Johnstone said. “Her face was swelling up.”

Stella recovered the next day after some pain medication, but Johnstone said the dogs walk on shorter leashes now.

German said there are some ways people can protect themselves from copperhead bites. He recommended wearing shoes outside, checking before reaching under anything, and keeping yards free from sticks and leaves where snakes could hide.

Generally, he said, copperheads are not aggressive and they will leave people alone as long as they’re left alone. Sometimes, though, they blend into their surroundings and people don’t realize they’re there.

German said most bites occur when people step on them or accidentally put their hands into a snake’s face. He suggested carrying a flashlight at dusk so the snakes are easier to see, and urges everyone to keep a very close eye on children.

German said it’s important to get to a hospital quickly if bitten because antivenom may be needed. He said most people recover from copperhead bites with no long-term issues, but bites can cause weeks or months of pain and swelling.

German said a copperhead can be recognized by looking at its side. it looks like it has Hershey kiss shapes. From the top, it looks like alternating hourglass shapes. It also has vertical pupils.

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