Copperhead, cottomouth, rattlesnake bite — What to do

by Tammy McCormack. 0 Comments

Well, it has been a long three weeks since I was bitten by a copperhead. I wanted to thank everyone for all the emails and well wishes. I consider myself very lucky as it could have been worse. As a Snake Trapper I have been very lucky over the years but this can happen to the best of people in this type of work.

I wanted to educate you with some updated snake bite prevention tips that were sent to me by Joseph Banashek. Joseph is a Mojave Rattlesnake Field Researcher in Adelanto, Calif. Joseph has given me full permission to use this new information in my column. Joseph has never been bitten by a venomous snake, and he has been doing this for over 20 years. He is a true expert in his field and is a part of the "Field Venom Research Team" in Loma Linda, Calif., run by Dr. Sean P. Bush (Envenomation Expert).

If you have any questions for him after reading my column you may contact him at

We do not have Cottomouth's in Maryland, but I wanted to include this snake in case you are ever bitten. Remember, Maryland only has two venomous snakes, the copperhead and timber rattlesnake.

In case you are bitten:

Call 911. Stay calm and try to relax. Should you experience a metallic taste in your mouth, this is a typical sign of envenomation.

Rinse the area with water to remove the venom that may be on the surface of the skin.

Remove rings or other constricting items of clothing, as swelling may occur.

Make no slices or punctures. Do not apply a touniquet or pressure wrap. Ice packs or heating pads should not be used. Do not attempt to suck out venom using your mouth or a suction device. This doesn't work and electric shock to the body doesn't work either.

Only drink water as you wait for help to arrive. Maintaining hydration is important with any venomous snake bite, and you should not take an aspirin or drink any alcohol. Have benedryl (antihismine) on hand to assist with possible mild allergic reactions. Keep an Epipen (for those who have a prescription for one) nearby. Should you have trouble breathing or feel as if you may pass out, use it immediately to prevent Anaphylaxis shock.

With moderate to severe envenomations, vomiting is to be expected plus you you may pass out. This is why you should never drive yourself to the hospital. You could hurt yourself more severely than the snake bite and you could cause harm to others.

If you are not able to contact 911, have someone get you to the nearest hospital. In antivenom treatment, time is critical. As Dr. Sean P. Bush says "time is tissue." The sooner you are treated with anti-venom, the sooner damaging effects of the venom can be controlled from spreading.

The following is optional depending on your situation.

Take a clear photo of the snake, but only if you or a friend can do so without putting yourself in harm's way. This can help the doctor to identify the snake should you have any unusual symptoms. Try to always carry a sheet of paper to write down a description of the snake, its size, and where you were when you were bitten, along with your name, address, personal information, medical history, allergies, prescriptions, insurance information and personal contacts.

And, as a disclaimer, we are not doctors. All information is what those at Mojava Rattlesnakle Research believe to be the most accurate at this point in time.

Always be very alert in your surroundings when hiking, gardening or doing any type of outdoor activity where snakes are present. As always get out an enjoy what nature has to offer.


Tammy McCormack is alLicensed Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources Snake Trapper. You may contact her at She writes an online column for the

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