How to handle a snake bite

Warmer weather is here and so is snake season. Would you know what to do or where to turn if your child is bitten?

With copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, Texas leads the nation in venomous snake bites and most occur between April and October.

"I think one of the scariest moments is speeding down the highway at night and the thoughts that go through a young child's head, he actually asked, 'Am I going to die?'" said Cris Daskevich, mother of Dillon, a 6-year-old boy who was bitten.

Last fall, Dillon was with family and friends on a ranch in Edna when the boys, muddy from play, used an outdoor shower to wash off. Dillon reached between some rocks to grab the soap when he was bitten by a copperhead.

"When I pulled my hand up I really didn't notice it was still on my hand, but I slung it a couple of feet from the shower," Dillon said.

"I called 911, immediately asked which direction we were going to which hospital based on the question, who has anti-venom?" said Daskevich. "And 911 did not know on the phone but was able to direct me to the closest hospital and they said they did, so that's where we went."

"It was kind of scary but I knew that my mom wouldn't let me die," Dillon said.

But when they got to the county hospital, doctors were reluctant to give Dillon anti-venom because of his age.

"When someone says. 'Well, we could probably discharge you in a couple of hours and you might manage that with some over-the-counter pain medication,' watching it you just knew instantly, 'I just need a second opinion,'" Daskevich said.

As Dillon's hand continued to swell, his family called Texas Children's Hospital, which has the only board certified medical toxicologist in Houston -- Dr. Spencer Green.

"When I heard that it broke my heart that someone would dismiss a copperhead bite so quickly," Green said.

He explained that the anti-venom available now for pit vipers is the safest and most effective to date.

"Time is tissue. We know that the anti-venom is most effective in the first six hours," Green said.

Green said while the number of deaths from venomous snake bites is very low, without treatment, the damage can be devastating.

"There's the potential for tissue loss and permanent disfigurement or disability, so I think it's important to get seen right away by someone who manages snakes bites so he or she can determine what kind of treatment is necessary," Green said.

So what do you do if you or loved one is bitten?

  • Do not try to capture the snake.
  • Gently wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Keep the limb that was bit elevated and seek help immediately.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Don't apply ice or heat to the wound.
  • Do not try to cut or suck the venom.

"It's useless, all you're doing is injuring a bigger wound and potentially infecting a bite, so we don't do that," Green said.

Fortunately for Dillon, his bite is hardly even visible now.

He actually played in a flag football playoff the following week.

Green said since he's been in Houston he's seen snake bites everywhere, from rural areas to inside the loop.

Families are encouraged to make a plan and know where you can get treated quickly and effectively.

UPDATE: Where to find anti-venom

After this story ran, KSAT's viewers raised the question of where anti-venom vaccine can be found in San Antonio.

Locally, Metropolitan Methodist Hospital carries the anti-venom medication. In addition, CroFab, an anti-venom treatment used for rattlesnake, cotton mouth, and copperhead bites, is available at Children's Hospital of San Antonio, Christus Santa Rosa Medical Center, Christus Santa Rosa Westover Hills, and Christus Santa Rosa New Braunfels.

University Health System has anti-venom for rattlesnake, copperhead and cottonmouth/water moccasins. However, Coral anti-venom is in very short supply nationally.

For more information, visit snakebitecare.com.