Watch out for snakes as weather warms, warns UAB emergency medicine specialist

With the first warm weekend of spring, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital saw its first snakebite.

"That is a usual pattern," said Janyce Sanford, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Emergency Medicine. "As soon as the weather starts to warm up, snakes begin to get active, and we begin seeing a bite or two. Still, we only see a few each spring, and people have a much greater chance of being stung by a bee or wasp or being bitten by a tick than being bitten by a snake."

The best way to avoid snakebite is to watch carefully for the presence of snakes while in the woods or near rivers or creeks, and wear long pants and boots. Sanford says a cellphone can also be helpful.

"Get to an emergency department as quickly as you safely can, and that can often be accomplished by calling 911," said Sanford. "Snap a picture of the snake with the cellphone if possible, but leave the snake behind. The last thing we need in a crowded emergency room is a snake, dead or alive."

Sanford says emergency physicians do not need to see the snake. Since a significant number of bites are either dry — with no venom injected — or are from a nonvenomous snake, simply observing the wound for a few hours will show if there is venom present. Appropriate antivenin can then be given. Snakebites are not usually fatal; those at increased risk are the very young, the very old and those with underlying medical conditions.


University of Alabama at Birmingham


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