Animal specialists offer snake advice as summer closes

With the final days of summer looming and the leaves ready to change, local animal specialists are cautioning vigilance.

“Words of wisdom to farmers and the public: If you see a snake, let it be,” said Marcus McCartney, the agriculture and natural resources educator with the Ohio State University Extension office in Washington County.

Last week a copperhead snake bit a teenager on the blue trail near the white trail intersection in the Broughton Nature Preserve just outside Marietta city limits.

“We’re back home now, and Gretchen is back at school, but the bloodwork still isn’t coming back normal yet, and she’s still swollen,” said Pamela Lankford, of Marietta, about her 16-year-old daughter. “She ended up having 10 doses of the antivenin total, six initially when we got to Columbus, and we thought it was under control, but then the pain went up into her leg, and they gave her four more.”

But those doses don’t come cheap.

“Even the toxicologist at Nationwide, who had a bunch of pharmacy students with him was saying how expensive it is,” said Lankford. “We haven’t gotten the bill yet, but I’m braced for over $100,000.”

The bite was initially treated at Marietta Memorial Hospital, but quickly saw a transfer to the nearest poison control center– Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

The antivenin, while a procedural response to venomous snake bites in humans, is not one that’s kept on hand in high supplies locally.

“They had one dose ready at Memorial when the ambulance got there to take us to Columbus, and the doctor at Nationwide had said to go ahead and get her on the road instead,” said Lankford, noting during their nearly week-long stay in the state capital she researched costs and the access to the antidote. “But thank heavens we live in a place where we have access to prompt and reliable medical care.”

Antivenin can cost between $1,200 and $5,000 per vial and can cause side effects from use, including thrombocytopenia (low platelet counts in the blood) and/or hypofibrinogenemia (trouble blood clotting.)

Gretchen Lankford is still dealing with the blood clotting side effects and swelling as she recovers while back in school.

Meanwhile, one local veterinary technician, who has also lived through a copperhead bite herself, said domestic animals are often not subjected to the antivenin if bitten.

“About this time of year we do guide owners of nosy dogs to be more careful, knowing their dog could have a run-in with a snake,” said Christina Davis, at Colegate Woods Veterinary Hospital in Marietta. “We don’t carry antivenin, but we do treat snakebites and have treated suspected copperhead bites in the past though we haven’t seen any this year yet.”

Davis said animals are usually able to fight off the snake venom with their own systems, noting the clinic will utilize intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics and local wound treatment.

“We try to keep them comfortable,” she said. “If your dog does get bitten, it helps us if you can get a good look at the snake or can bring it, so we know what kind of bite we’re treating. If it’s a cottonmouth or a rattlesnake that changes the treatment.”

But hikers like Gretchen Lankford aren’t the only ones at risk of crossing paths with the venomous pit viper.

“There are only three poisonous snakes in Ohio, but only two may someone encounter in our area; the Eastern Copperhead and Timber rattlesnake,” said McCartney. “More likely someone will encounter an eastern copperhead than a timber rattlesnake.”

But the snakes, he said, should not be vilified or eradicated.

“The old saying ‘the only good snake is a dead snake’ is completely wrong and outdated,” McCartney continued. “Snakes are very beneficial to humans, and we should appreciate and understand them, not vilify them. On farms, they are great at keeping mice and rat populations in check.”

McCartney guides both wildlife enthusiasts and farmers to instead be cautious, but not destructive.

“They are necessary for the environment and ecosystem. We need to change the mindset [about] snake to mirror turtles,” he continued. “No one ever kills a turtle just to kill a turtle for existing, so we should adopt this same thinking to other reptiles -like snakes.”

McCartney said though a bite from a venomous snake may be dry–lacking venom–safety protocols and immediate medical care is still the best practice after a bite for animals or humans.

“The victim should not wait and see what happens but seek medical attention immediately,” he said.

Lankford agreed, drawing on last week’s experience.

“At first they were hoping (Gretchen) had a dry bite because initially, she was fine–the bloodwork came back clear, and there was no initial swelling,” described Lankford. “But we were told (Memorial) still wanted to keep her for six to eight hours for observation. Then she really started to feel pain later.”