Raleigh hospital reports ‘significant’ increase in snake bite visits this summer

·3 min read
Andrea Weigl

The number of people seeking treatment for snake bites nearly doubled at one local hospital this summer, following an overall trend the hospital has tracked over the past several years.

WakeMed Emergency Department told The News & Observer that since July 1, 34 patients were treated at their hospitals for snake bites, and seven of those visits were in the first week of August. Last year, between July 1 and Aug. 7, WakeMed Emergency Departments treated 19 patients for snake bites.

Nearly all of these bites were copperhead bites, said Dr. Ben German, an Emergency Department physician at WakeMed who specializes in snake bites.

“In a normal year, we see a lot of bites. This has been a theme for a long time, but the overall trend is increasing,” German said. “I’ve been here — at WakeMed and other hospitals in the Triangle — since 2006, and we’ve always seen the number increase over time. But this year’s increase is significant.”

Looking back, snake bites in the region in 2017 doubled the number of bites in 2016, German wrote in a blogpost in May 2017.

This year, UNC Rex Health reports treating 10 patients for snake bites in emergency departments in Raleigh and Holly Springs since July 1. Of those, four were identified as copperhead bites.

According to Duke Health data analytics, there were 19 emergency department patients across the Duke University Health System who experience a copperhead snake encounter since July 1.

Why we’re seeing more snake bites this year

The main reason for this increase, German said, is that there are more people here every year for the snakes to bite — not that there are more snakes doing the biting. ‘

Plus, with the tremendous growth in the area, people are moving into newly developed areas that were previously wooded areas occupied by copperheads.

“Copperheads are resilient snakes,” German said. “Lots of snakes don’t do well in habitats that get destroyed, like when forests are converted to residential neighborhoods. But copperheads do well even with human disturbance.”

Most bites happen in suburban areas, German said — Cary, Apex and northern Wake County are popular spots — but bites can happen anywhere.

“There’s also no place here in the Triangle where you don’t have the potential to see copperheads,” German said. “I wouldn’t expect to see them daily in downtown Raleigh where there’s mostly concrete, but we’ve seen a few bites pretty close to downtown. Anytime there’s an area with a natural habitat, like a drainage ditch or a creek, we expect to see some snakes.”

How to protect yourself from snake bites

Here’s what German recommends:

Wear closed-toe shoes: Specifically ones that cover the ankle. Toes, bare feet and ankles are the most common spot for snake bites.

Clean up your yard: Wood and brush piles are easy places for snakes to hide, so make your space uninviting.

Don’t landscape in the evening: These snakes are most prevalent after dusk, and an easy way to get bit is reaching your hand inside your shrubs without inspecting the area first. Regular gloves won’t protect you much from these bites.

Be careful after heavy rainfall: Rain typically pushes animals, including snakes, to higher ground. It’s more likely you’ll find snakes in your hard after significant rain.

Back away: Snakes aren’t scheming to bite you. If you see one, don’t pester it. Just walk away, and it should leave you alone.

And stay back: Snakes can still bite you even if you think they’re dead. In fact, a snake can still bite you for an hour or more after its head is severed from its body, German says.