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​Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC Offers Tips to Stay Safe Around Venomous Snakes During Summer

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Rick Pietzak
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pietzakr@upmc.edu

Courtney Caprara
Communications Specialist II
412-647-6190
capraracl@upmc.edu

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5/27/2016

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PITTSBURGH, May 27, 2016 – Summer is the ideal time for outdoor fun, particularly the picturesque wilderness of western Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC (PPC) receives an increased number of calls related to venomous snakebites during the summer months. In 2015, the PPC received 41 calls within the region, including one fatality. So far this spring, the PPC already has received four calls related to snakebites to people and pets in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Somerset Counties. 
 
The PPC reminds anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors to stay alert and use caution around covered rocks or brush where snakes or other animals may find shelter. Local animal control authorities should be contacted if necessary to remove a snake. Approaching the snake or attempting to scare it away can result in injury.  
 
“A majority of snakebites occur when people knowingly attempt to handle snakes, but there also are a significant number of bites that occur from accidental exposure such as reaching into woodpiles, cleaning up leaves and underbrush or hiking. Once a bite occurs, the initial reaction usually involves pain at the site of the wound and overwhelming fear. It is important to try to stay calm and focus on getting help,” said Michael Lynch, M.D., medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC Presbyterian.
 
In western Pennsylvania, most venomous snakes are species of rattlesnakes. However, copperheads do not have rattles and can be mistaken for other non-venomous snakes, depending upon their coloring.
 
“No one should panic at the mere sight of a snake. Fatalities are extremely rare and usually occur as a result of an allergy or significant venom delivery. There are a large number of non-venomous snakes in this area, but it is not always easy to tell the difference. A bite from a venomous snake is poisonous and symptoms can develop over minutes to hours so it is critical to get treatment at the nearest hospital where anti-venom therapy can be directed by the Poison Center and a toxicologist as soon as possible,” said Dr. Lynch. 
 
The PPC recommends the following guidelines for treating a snakebite:
 
• If the patient loses consciousness, has chest pain, trouble breathing or a sense of throat/tongue swelling, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.
• Otherwise, call the regional poison center at 800-222-1222. Remain calm and attempt to identify or be able to describe the snake (color, rattle?).
• Straighten, immobilize and elevate the bitten limb or body part as high as possible without compressing the soft tissue.
• Note the time the bite happened.
• Remove all tight clothing or jewelry from the affected limb.
• Wash the bite with soap and water and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing, if available, and if doing so does not cause delay.
• Do not pick up the snake or try to trap/kill it.
• Do not apply a tourniquet or attempt to restrict blood flow to the affected area.
• Do not cut the wound.
• Do not attempt to suck out the venom.
• Do not apply heat, cold, electricity or any substances to the wound.
• Do not drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages or take any drugs or medicines.
 
For questions related to snakebites or any other potentially toxic exposure, call the Pittsburgh Poison Center at UPMC at 1-800-222-1222 anytime to speak to a poison specialist at no cost.
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