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South Carolina snake bites up 30 percent in 2017

The Palmetto Poison Center in Columbia had received 17 reports of snake bites from hospitals around the state by May 2016. This year, the agency says it has already gotten 24 reports of snake bites. (Pictured: eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, copperhead)

Unseasonably warm weather has allowed people to get outside more often this year. That may explain why reports of snake bites have increased 30 percent in South Carolina from this time a year ago.

Jill Michels, Managing Director for the Palmetto Poison Center (PPC) in Columbia, says her agency often consults hospitals and the general public on how to treat poisonings. That includes bites from South Carolina's six species of venomous snakes.

Michels says by early May 2016, the PPC had received 17 reports of snake bites from hospitals around the state. This year, Michels says the PPC has already gotten 24 reports of snake bites.

South Carolina is on pace to have a second straight year with an unusually high number of reported snake bites. The PPC got 206 reports of bites in 2016, compared to an average of 150-160 reports most years, Michels says.

While that is a significant increase, it pales in comparison to the major swell in cases from North Carolina. The Carolinas Poison Center in Charlotte says reported snakebites in the Tar Heel State are up an incredible 274 percent. The agency says it received 71 calls for snake bites last month, compared to 19 in April 2016.

Back in South Carolina, the PPC usually gets the bulk of its snake bite calls from March through November. Calls this time of year are most common here in the Lowcountry, Michels says.

Not all bites reported to the Palmetto or Carolinas poison centers end up being from venomous snakes, but both agencies say the ones that are from venomous snakes most often come from copperheads.

Other venomous snakes found in South Carolina include eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, timber (canebrake) rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes, water moccasins (cotton mouths), and coral snakes.

“The fortunate thing is, our snakes are not aggressive,” said Will Dillman, a herpetologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s very, very unusual for people to encounter a venomous snake out in the wild, particularly in South Carolina.”

The Centers for Disease Control tracks and monitors snake bites in the United States, and says deaths are very rare. The agency estimates 7,000-8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, but only about 5 die.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: North Charleston 8-year-old bitten by rattlesnake

Roughly five years ago, then eight-year-old Zach Szala was fighting for his life after being bitten twice by a rattlesnake while playing in a North Charleston park.

Even after 30 vials of anti-venom, his mom says it was touch and go. The complications were severe, he spent three months in the ICU at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“He’s a miracle, the child is a miracle,” Elizabeth Szala said. “He had to pretty much learn how to walk and talk and just you know everyday things that you have to do, he had to pretty much figure out how to do it again.”

She said it took two years for Zach to fully recover, but it’s a nightmare they’ll never forget.

“He’s doing great, he’s made a full recovery, he’s doing well at school,” Szala. “He seems to have handled it better than anyone else in the family to be honest with you.”

The only death from a snakebite in South Carolina in recent history occurred in June 2016. The victim was a 71-year-old man, who was bitten while hiking through Santee National Wildlife Refuge in Clarendon County.

The Palmetto Poison Center say if you are bitten by a snake, these are some things you need to know:

  • Remain calm
  • Wash the bite with soap and water
  • Do not apply a tourniquet or ice
  • Do not try to suck the venom from the bite site
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