Record high temperatures and dry weather mean more encounters with snake and spiders.
Snakes, which generally hide in woodpiles and other covered areas, are more likely to come out of hiding to enjoy the strong rays of the sun during heatwaves. Likewise, the hot weather is producing a bumper crop of bugs that feed the spider population.
With people spending more time outside enjoying the weather, it’s the perfect recipe for snake and spider bites.
Dr. David Rentz, an emergency medicine physician at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and Novant Health Matthews Medical Center in North Carolina, said emergency visits to the hospitals for snake and spider bites are more frequent during warm weather. “People head to the emergency department in Matthews for snake bites more often than in Charlotte because it’s a less urban environment,” Rentz said.
Most snake bites treated at the emergency department are from copperheads, rattlesnakes and, more infrequently, from water moccasins. “Venomous spider bites are very rare,” Rentz said. “A lot of the complaints we see about spider bites are in reality abscesses and skin infections, but we do see an occasional brown recluse spider bite.”
While not all of these creatures are venomous and bites are rare, a person could suffer from a life-threatening allergic reaction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 7,000 to 8,000 Americans a year are bitten by venomous snakes, and five of those people will die.
When to go to the ER
Common poisonous snakes in the Southeast include copperheads and water moccasins. Even if you can’t tell whether you or someone else has been bitten by a poisonous snake, a snake bite is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
“You should go to the ER right away for a snake bite,” Rentz said. “You may not immediately know if a snake has released its venom and we have a whole protocol where we monitor patients and treat them with anti-venom, if necessary.”
To help doctors identify whether the snake might be dangerous, Rentz advised having a good description of the snake and taking a picture of the animal with a cellphone if possible – but not if taking the photo puts you at risk of another bite.
Another caution from Rentz, don’t trap the snake and take it with you to the emergency department, whether it’s dead or alive. He’s seen plenty of dead snakes in sacks and even a live one in Tupperware brought into the office.
Symptoms of snake bites include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Blurred vision
- Increased sweating
- Tingling in the limbs
Don’t wait for symptoms to develop, Rentz warned. You should head to the ER immediately since reactions can take several hours to develop. Most bites occur on hands, feet and legs. Elevating the body part that was bitten is a good strategy, he said.
What not to do
Contrary to conventional wisdom, do not slash the wound site with a knife and suck out the venom. “You do not want to increase blood flow to the injured area,” he said. “Extracting venom this way doesn’t work.”
The CDC also warns not to apply a tourniquet to stop the spread of venom or apply ice to the wound. Also, do not try to trap the snake because that raises the risk of another snake bite.
Though many people are afraid of spiders, they rarely bite people unless they are threatened. Most spiders are harmless so a bite will cause a reaction similar to a bee sting, presenting symptoms of swelling, redness and pain.
The National Institutes of Health advises treating these spider bites with the following steps:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Take an aspirin or other over-the-counter pain medicine.
- Use antihistamines to reduce swelling.
- Apply an ice compact to help with the pain.
NIH recommended that anyone with a more severe reaction to a bite should seek medical attention.
Some spiders are dangerous, including the black widow and brown recluse spiders. Both varieties are common to the southern United States. Spiders aren’t usually aggressive and will only bite when people come in contact with them.
“Brown recluse spiders are reclusive by nature,” Rentz said. “They hide in dark areas like storage sheds.” If this spider bites, you may not show symptoms immediately, but dying tissue and skin infections can develop over the next several days.
Symptoms of these spider bites vary from minor to severe and can, in some instances, result in death. Reactions include:
- Muscle cramping
- Blisters or reddish discoloration of affected area
- Increased sweating
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever and chills
- High blood pressure
Treatment for spider bites
If bitten by a spider, national health authorities advise against removing the venom. Instead, apply ice to reduce the swelling and seek medical attention. Identifying the type of spider that caused the bite will help doctors with treatment.
There is no anti-venom for spider bites, but doctors will put you on medication to treat your condition, Rentz said.
Protect yourself from spider bites by shaking out shoes or gloves before putting them on, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants as well as storing outdoor gear in tightly-closed containers. Use bug repellent spray with DEET when outdoors.
Rentz said people should be vigilant and aware of their surroundings when outside in warm weather running, walking or riding a bike. You’re more likely to encounter snakes on running trails and in rocky areas.