The report of a possible fatal snakebite that occurred in Carter County on Saturday raises dozens of questions for those of us who treasure time spent outdoors. Let’s address the most pressing question first.
Q: Could this happen to me or someone I know?
A: Snakebite ranks just above falling space debris as a threat to human life.
Now that we have that out of the way and can all breathe normally again, here are some other important questions and answers about snakebite.
Q: How common are snakebites?
A: The Missouri Poison Center recorded 596 venomous snakebites in the seven-year period from 1993 through 1999, or about 85 per year. None of those was fatal. The last documented death from a copperhead bite in Missouri was in 1965. For comparison, consider the frequency of fatalities from different causes in 2002 as reported by Time Magazine:
- Auto accidents, 44,757
- Bicycle, 762
- Pool drowning, 515
- Slipping in ice or snow, 103
- Bee or wasp stings, 66
- Lightning, 47
- Dog attack, 32
- Snakebite, 2
These numbers help put the risk of snakebite in perspective. Staying indoors for fear of being bitten makes even less sense than refusing to swim, bicycle or get in a car.
Q: If nearly 100 Missourians are bitten each year, why don’t more people die of snakebite?
A: For several reasons. First, venom is an important tool, so snakes don’t waste it. Approximately one-quarter of all bites are “dry,” meaning the snake doesn’t inject any venom. This often is because the snake is trying to scare away an intruder, not kill you. Second, medical treatment for snakebite is readily available in Missouri. Third, many venomous snakes simply don’t have enough venom to kill a person. This can be because of the snake’s size or because it recently depleted its venom supply by biting a prey animal.
Q: What venomous snakes live in Missouri?
A: The Show-Me State has five venomous snakes. These are the copperhead, the cottonmouth, and the timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake and massasauga rattlesnakes. The other 30-odd snake species native to Missouri may bite if cornered or handled, but their bites are not dangerous.
Q: Are some venomous snakes more dangerous than others?
A: Yes. Bigger snakes are more dangerous, because they carry more venom. Some species’ venom is more toxic than others. Fortunately, Missouri’s most widely distributed venomous snake, the copperhead, has the least-toxic venom. The toxicity of Missouri snakes’ venom, from most toxic to least, is timber rattler, cottonmouth, pygmy rattler, massasauga and copperhead.
Q: Besides size