At least eight people have been treated for venomous snake bites already this year in two Beaufort County hospitals.
South Carolina is on track to have another unusually high number of reported snake bites, and officials say the Lowcountry should be on the lookout for copperheads.
Dr. Robert Clodfelter, medical director of the Hilton Head Hospital’s emergency room, said the hospital has treated five people for venomous snake bites so far this year. Coastal Carolina Hospital has treated three.
Typically, Hilton Head Hospital treats 15-25 venomous snake bites and a few nonvenomous bites, Clodfelter said.
In 2016, the hospital treated 16 people for venomous snake bites. Coastal Carolina Hospital treated 19 people, according to hospital records.
Here’s what you need to know:
1) Copperheads are the main culprits. Here’s what they look like.
Keep in mind, there are total of 38 snake species in the Lowcountry, and the chances of encountering a venomous one are very unlikely. In most instances, the snake is more afraid of the human than the other way around, according to Will Dillman, herpetologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
However, there are six venomous snakes crawling around the Lowcountry, and Clodfelter said copperheads are the main culprits for bites on Hilton Head.
“Hilton Head is crawling with copperheads. I would say almost 100 percent of the venomous bites we see are copperheads, ” he said. “Copperheads love brush-type, wooded areas and warmer climate, so they’re fairly common here.”
2) Copperheads blend in so be on the lookout.
Clodfelter said that a majority of the patients he’s treated did not see the snake before it struck.
“Most of the patients were either gardening or walking along some kind of path near brush when they were bitten,” he said. “Copperheads are so well camouflaged.”
Clodfelter said people need to be more cautious when they are gardening or near any area with a lot of brush — including all of that hurricane debris cluttering the the Lowcountry.
“Before you do any gardening, take a rake through the area and check for snakes,” he said. “If you’re walking near any brush, always be on the lookout, especially between dusk and daybreak. Copperheads are more active at night in the summertime.”
3) Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten.
The good news is that copperheads are the least venomous of the venomous local snakes, though their bite still requires immediate medical attention. Copperhead bite symptoms include swelling, pain, shock, tingling and numbness.
“Copperhead bites are immediately painful and symptoms begin soon after the bite,” Clodfelter said. “We’re always stocked with antivenom at the hospital ready to treat. Copperhead bites can get serious if you don’t treat them quickly.”
4) Statewide and across the region, snake bites are up.
Jill Michels, managing director of the Palmetto Poison Center in Columbia, said her agency has received 35 reports of snake bites across South Carolina this year.
“This time last year, we saw 38 snake bites reported, and that was one of the biggest years we ever had,” Michels said. “We’re on track for another unusual year like last year when we saw more than 200 reported cases, which was way above normal.”