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Venomous snake bites nearly double in South Florida. This is what you should do if you are ever bitten.

Venomous snake bites nearly double in South Florida.  This is what you should do if you are ever bitten.

Two months ago, Mone’t Robinson, a 21-year-old Amazon driver, delivered a package to the porch of a Palm City home. But instead of leaving in his truck, he left in an ambulance.

A large eastern rattlesnake, the most venomous in North America, was coiled on the porch and struck her in the back of the leg, just above the knee.

When doctors loaded her into the ambulance, she “could barely breathe” and would spend three weeks in the hospital recovering.

There have been nearly twice as many emergency snakebites this year as in the previous two years, according to Lt. Chris Pecori of the Miami-Dade Poison Response Team, which responds to snakebites in Miami-Dade counties. Broward and Palm Beach and oversees the acquisition of antidotes for the region.

“We actually had a significant increase,” Pecori said. “We usually average two bites a month. In 2020 there were a total of 27 stings. In 2021 there were 27. In 2022 there were 25 and this year I have had 42 bites. So I’m awake.”

It’s hard to say why there may be more bites this year, but Pecori suspects it could be related to the recent population boom in Florida. “We are expanding westward into our Everglades,” he said.

He compiled his statistics after South Florida’s “snake season,” which runs from April to October, ended.

Its statistics include three categories of bites:

  • Native venomous snakes like the eastern rattlesnake that bit Robinson, as well as cottonmouth snakes and coral snakes.
  • Exotic venomous snakes kept in captivity, such as cobras.
  • Bites from non-venomous snakes such as invasive pythons.

Between 2020 and 2022, he averaged two eastern diamondback bites a year, and this year he has treated five.

Steve Gauta picks up a cottonmouth snake during his search for pythons in the Big Cypress National Preserve on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
A cottonmouth observed by python hunters in the Big Cypress National Preserve on August 7. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Water moccasins, also known as water moccasins, account for 6% of stings nationally, Pecori said, but in South Florida they are the No. 1 venomous sting species because of our matrix of swamps and canals. region. Over the past four years, cottonmouth bites have fluctuated from 9 to 12 bites per year.

He said the most common venomous snake bite throughout Florida is from the dusky pygmy rattlesnake, the smallest rattlesnake in the United States, at 12 to 24 inches. Pecori said no one has ever died from one of his bites, but you can lose a finger if you don’t seek treatment and the wound becomes necrotic.

His team has treated eight bites from non-native exotic venomous snakes this year, and all were from captive snakes; He has never had an exotic bite in the wild.

Where bites occur

Robinson’s bite occurred in a housing development built in 2005 in Palm City, near Stuart. To the west is the turnpike and farmland, to the south is Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park. This type of boundary between wilderness and suburbs may be part of a trend in snake bites.

“I don’t get too many calls on the (more developed) east side of my county,” Pecori said. “Most of my bites occur in Homestead, Florida City or on the western edge of populated areas.”

Cottonmouth bites seem to cluster in a specific area further north. “I see cottonmouth bites mostly in southwest Broward and northwest Dade, in that little kingdom where they (developers) have turned into swampy areas of the Everglades.”

A non-venomous species that may occasionally penetrate the suburbs, possibly through canals, is the invasive Burmese python. Pecori said he gets about two python calls a month, and recently caught one in Coral Gables, the farthest north and east he’s ever seen one.

The bell on the porch

The eastern rattlesnake that bit Robinson is the largest species of rattlesnake in North America, reaching 8 feet in length and having the greatest strength, in part, because its bite releases a large load of venom.

Dr. Ben Abo, a naturalist and toxinologist who is consulted by emergency doctors across the country about snake bites, said the fact that the snake was on a porch may have made the bite more likely. “He probably not only felt trapped, but she’s much taller than him. They are snakes that are not going to hunt us. “They don’t want to waste their poison on us.”

He said Robinson’s difficulty breathing was not a typical reaction. “He may have had a severe allergic reaction due to the size of the poison load,” she said.

“The venom (of the eastern rattlesnake) is a cocktail of toxins that do different things: it’s a combination of toxins that eat away at tissue… there are also neurotoxins (which attack the nerves) and hemotoxins, so it affects the blood capacity. coagulate”.

The amount of poison alters the effects. He said Robinson probably received a fairly large load and that reactions can range from localized pain to death and skin destruction to complete cardiovascular collapse.

First aid if you are bitten

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, six of Florida’s 44 native snake species are venomous: the eastern coral snake, southern copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern rattlesnake , the timber rattlesnake, and the dusky pygmy rattlesnake.

If one of them bites you, all the old wives’ tales are nonsense, Abo said. “You should not keep the bite below the heart. You don’t do tourniquets or anything compressive. You don’t connect a car battery, apply a stun gun, or use electricity. No cutting or sucking, nor using any of those commercial extractors. And no ice. Those methods will not only not help, but will cause harm,” he stated.

It is extremely important to keep the sting elevated above the heart so that toxins, which corrode the flesh, do not remain concentrated in the limb. In other words, if a snake bites your leg, lie down and elevate your leg.

The idea is to extend and weaken them. Keeping the wound below the heart would also exacerbate swelling, which delays healing. He also implored people not to be afraid of the antidote.

Pecori added that aspirin or anti-inflammatories should not be taken, because they can increase bleeding. He agreed with Abo’s advice and said the only time a tourniquet would be used would be if he were trapped in the Australian outback, eight hours from the nearest hospital, and were bitten by an outback taipan, whose venom would close his respiratory tract.

There are no turnstiles in Florida, he said. “Here everyone is between 15 and 30 minutes from a hospital with antidote, even if this requires a helicopter.”

Pecori said antivenoms also work for cats and dogs, and some are made specifically for pets. If his pet suffers a bite, he suggested calling his veterinarian, not 911.



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