An 11-year-old boy was bitten by a copperhead during a recent hike along the Ocoee River, the 13th snake-bite victim reported in that area in recent weeks.
The incidence of bites by venomous snakes seems to be on the increase, and this is a prime time of year for such incidents as hikers, campers, picnickers, gardeners and others take to the outdoors.
Outdoors authorities offer tips about how to avoid getting bitten:
+ Be aware of where you step when walking through bushy, rocky or weedy areas.
+ Don't step over a log without first checking on the other side, where a snake could be coiled.
+ Be especially careful around old barns, sheds and other buildings where rodents dwell, because they attract snakes.
+ Never place hands in holes, hollow logs or rocky crevices.
+ Don't pick up old lumber or sheets or tin or other objects under which snakes could be coiled; fingers make an inviting target.
+ Don't attempt to kill or capture any snake; it's illegal in Tennessee, as well as being dangerous when venomous species are involved.
Also, there is advice about what to do if bitten:
+ Try to remain calm; snakebites are painful and traumatic, but seldom fatal.
+ Seek medical help immediately; don't waste time attempting to cut and drain the bite or applying a tourniquet. Cutting into the bitten area is not only is ineffective, it could sever blood vessels, nerves and muscles, and do more harm than the bite itself.
+ Don't waste time trying to kill the snake for identification; it's not necessary, as all bites are treated with the same anti-venom serum. If the bite came from one of the three venomous species in Tennessee -- copperhead, rattlesnake or cottonmouth -- there will be two puncture wounds made by the fangs, and pain and swelling will be immediate.
The venom of the cottonmouth is considered the most toxic, followed by the rattlesnake and copperhead. However, bites from the latter can be serious, potentially causing permanent loss of muscle function. A bite on a finger, for example, has been known to cause life-long impairment of the finger.
Anyone who spends time outdoors should learn to identify the venomous species from the non-venomous, which is fairly simple. Venomous species have pits near their nostrils (hence, they're called pit vipers), arrowhead-shaped heads (the venom is stored in the pronounced jaw pockets) and vertical pupils, as opposed to the round pupils of non-venomous species.
Snakes are normally not aggressive and most bites are defensive, inflicted when the snake feels threatened. However, there are documented cases of snakes attacking humans who invade their territory.
Cottonmouths are generally found around water, and in the dry summer months other species also congregate around water sources. Extra caution should be taken in those watery areas.
A snakebite can turn a summer outing into a traumatic event whose effects last a lifetime.