UNC Health Care

A Venomous Snake Just Bit You! Now What?

With the rise in temperatures comes a rise in the number of venomous snake bites across the state. North Carolina is home to six species of venomous snakes, but the most common is the copperhead. They are found in every county and can be spotted near the woods or even in your garage. Luckily, copperhead venom is relatively mild, so fatal bites almost never occur. So what do you do if a snake bites you?

DO:

  1. Stay calm and move away from the snake so it can’t strike you again.
  2. Go to an emergency department; you may need antivenom.
  3. Sit still and keep calm. Venom seems to travel more with increased heart rate, which can lead to more complications.
  4. Remove any jewelry or tight clothing that may interfere with the area of the bite before it starts to swell.
  5. Try to remember the snake’s color or characteristics so you can tell your doctor.

DO NOT:

  1. Apply a tourniquet.
  2. Use ice.
  3. Suck out the venom.
  4. Drink alcohol.
  5. Try to capture the snake that bit you.

How do you know if a snake is a copperhead? There are some distinct characteristics you can look out for:

  • Flat head
  • Yellow tail (only on babies)
  • Vertical pupil (like a cat), not a round one
  • Distinctive dark bands around the body that are wider on the sides and narrow near the backbone (similar to an hourglass shape, or a Hershey’s Kiss)

Your best protection is to watch where you step. If you’re outside and can’t see where you’re stepping, don’t be barefoot or even in flip-flops. Copperheads aren’t very aggressive and usually bite only when threatened or to eat (their typical diet includes lizards, small birds, mice and small snakes). If you are going into the woods or near the edge of the woods, where most copperheads live, wear pants made from thick material and closed-toe shoes.