With a 50% increase in snake bites in Georgia this year, here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself outdoors — and what to do if bitten.

With a 50% increase in snake bites in Georgia this year, here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself outdoors — and what to do if bitten.

An adult Copperhead snake from Floyd County. (photo from Georgia Department of Natural Resources)

With this year’s mild winter and early spring, it’s created a few problematic situations…an increase in snake activity and an surge in pesky ticks and mosquitoes. Hometown Headlines’ Natalie Simms takes a look at the situation in Northwest Georgia in this two-part series on outdoor dangers. Part two posts Tuesday morning.

Plus: Please join us at 8:10 this morning as Ben Winkelman from the Rome Floyd ECO River Education Center talks about what’s up with all these black bear reports in Greater Rome. Hometown Headlines Radio Edition, WRGA 98.7 FM or online at wrga.streamon.fm

By Natalie Simms

While some people enjoyed this year’s mild winter and early spring temperatures, those same conditions are being blamed for a rather dangerous problem…an increase in snake bites across Georgia. According to the Georgia Poison Center, which tracks reported bites across the state, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of reported bites from January to April of this year compared to same time period in 2016.

“From January through April, there were about 55 people bitten. That’s about 50 percent more than the number of bites reported in the same time period last year,” says Gaylord Lopez, GPC Director. “And last year itself saw a record number of snake bites, around 500. At this rate, we’re well on the way to breaking that record this year.”

From Georgia DNR

So why the increase? John Jenson, a senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says it is not an increase in the number of snakes but that more humans are coming into their habitats.

“There is no reason to suspect there are more snakes in general,” he says. “It has been nice and warm, which are good conditions for snakes. Because of the mild winter, snakes emerged early because conditions were favorable. And with mild temps, it gets folks outdoors. When you couple those together, there are more chances for them to collide.

“So snakes should definitely be out this time of year. That’s what they do. If snake bites are up this year as they were this time last year, it is mainly because human development has encroached into their habitats.”

With snakes out of dormancy earlier in the year, they have had more time to slither around. In fact, the first reported snake bite of this year was on Jan. 3, according to the GPC.

Keith Mickler, UGA Extension coordinator in Floyd County, says there have been more reports of snakes out locally. “We haven’t had any harsh winters the past couple of years. There are more snakes coming closer to homes looking for food. Most of the snakes you will see around here are non-venomous.”

Since Northwest Georgia is a haven for the outdoor adventurer, how can folks protect themselves from snake bites?

Jensen says it’s important to educate yourself with colors and patterns of Georgia’s six venomous snakes. Those six include Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake, Timber/Canebreak rattlesnake, Pigmy rattlesnake and the Eastern Coral snake. Of those six, only four of those are found in Northwest Georgia including the Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Eastern Diamondback and Pigmy rattlesnakes.

Click here to download the DNR’s brochure on venomous snakes in Georgia.

“The biggest thing is to be aware they are out there but don’t just avoid the woods because of snakes,” says Jenson. “If you see one, just walk away. Don’t run…they don’t chase people. Doing nothing is better than doing something.

“Otherwise, the only thing you will need in your first aid kit if you are bit by a snake, is a set of car keys to get you straight to the hospital.”

According to the GPC, here are the 10 things to do if bitten by a venomous snake:

  1. Stay Calm. Get the patient to the nearest hospital right away! Call 911 or the Georgia Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) immediately.
  2. Try to identify the snake by sight only. Look for color, patterns and head shape.
  3. Do not try to kill the snake; it could bite again.
  4. Keep the patient calm and immobile (preferably lying down).
  5. Keep the affected limb at an even level with the rest of the body.
  6. Do not give the patient food, drink, or medication (e.g., pain medications, alcohol, etc.).
  7. Do not use a tourniquet.
  8. Do not cut the wound.
  9. Do not try to suck out the venom.
  10. Do not pack the wound in ice.

“So many people make the mistake of putting on a tourniquet around the bite because they think that will stop the spread of the venom,” says Jensen. “But the venom from these snakes destroy tissue and the last thing you want to do is concentrate the venom in one away. You want it to spread so the risk of damage is less.”

You also can be bitten by a non-venomous snake. If this happens, you should wash the bite area with warm soapy water. A tetanus shot may be needed, so it is best to seek medical attention.

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