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Neighbors, expert react to Copperhead attack


Andrew Moss and his 3-year-old son, Case were treated at Vidant Medical Center after being bitten by a copperhead snake July 4.


Tyler Stocks

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Andrew Moss was celebrating the Fourth of July with sparklers in hand as his three-year-old son looked on when he felt a sudden, sharp pain in his foot.

Moss had been bitten by a copperhead snake but at first he didn't realize what had happened.

"We have a lot of gumballs (from a sweetgum tree) in our front yard and I thought I had stepped on a gumball," Moss said. "It was kind of how the first bite felt. I step on gumballs all the time.

"The second bite I definitely knew it was not a gumball," he said. "It was higher up on my ankle. It was much, much more painful when I looked down."

Moss saw the outline of the snake and snatched his son up.

"My son was right beside me, so by the time I had went to grab him and pick him up, the snake stuck him on the back of the ankle," Moss said. "I ran inside the house to see if he was just scared or if he had gotten struck."

Moss and Case were taken to Vidant Medical Center for observation.

"We spent a night in the hospital so they could monitor us," he said on Monday. "I had significant swelling and I still can't walk right now. I'm having a lot of the pain. The swelling is going down but it's still there."

Moss is on pain medication and received six vials of anti-venom.

Moss said Case's injuries were minor because Case received a dry bite, which means the snake did not inject venom into the skin.

"It's kind of scary really," Moss said. "We were literally 15 feet from my front door. I'm glad I got bit twice. I hate anybody got bitten but I'm glad Case got the third one. All the venom went into me."

A week prior to Moss and Case being bitten, their next door neighbor, Paul Dunn, received a dry bite from a copperhead. He has since recovered.

According to local snake expert Howard Vainright, copperheads are Pitt County natives.

"They are abundant and there's a healthy population especially in eastern North Carolina," said Vainright, who was the longtime director of Greenville's River Park North and caretaker of its extensive snake exhibit.

With the summer heat wave, Vainright said snakes will be more common at night. When going outside, people should wear protective shoes and carry a flashlight.

"You don't want to walk around in an area that's going to be prone to have copperheads at night without being able to see where you're walking," he said.

As people are working out in the yard, especially working in the garden, Vainright said snake sightings are to be expected.

"Everybody likes to have pretty azaleas, plant beds and things that look nice to dress up the yard, but those are the kind of areas that are going to be good habitats for snakes. If you're going to have those kind of areas, you need to be prepared to see a snake occasionally."

A common snake seen in mulch and pine straw is the northern brown snake.

"They're probably the ones I get the most calls about," Vainright said.

The snake is non-venomous and eats earthworms and slugs.

If you are bitten by a snake, the Cleveland Clinic recommends you should:

Seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Apply first aid treatment

Remove any jewelry or watches, as these could cut into the skin if swelling occurs.

Keep the area of the bite below the level of the heart in order to slow the spread of venom through the bloodstream.

Remain still and calm. Moving around will make venom spread faster through the body.

Cover the bite with a clean, loose-fitting, dry bandage.

The main goal is to administer the correct antivenom as soon as possible. Knowing the size, color and shape of the snake can help determine the best treatment for a particular bite.

Vainright said most snakes are harmless. The copperhead, timber rattler and cottonmouth (water moccasin) are the only three venomous species in Pitt County and among only six statewide. There's 37 species of snakes in the state and more than a dozen in Pitt County.

"Most snakes you come across are going to be harmless, non-venomous snakes," Vainright said.

Although they do strike humans, Vainright said snakes are not trying to feed on them.

"It's just unfortunate that some of the snakes might have a bad effect if they bite us," he said. "They bite us for defense. They're not trying to attack us. They're scared of us and they use camouflage to hide from us.

"They're just biting because they feel threatened, they feel like they're about to be attacked by a bigger animal than they are, so they just defend themselves," Vainright said.

When snakes do use venom, it normally is intended for prey like mice and other rodents, Vainright said.

"The venom is a pre-digestive enzyme that causes tissue damage," he said. "That's what would happen to a prey animal like a mouse. Once it bites, the mouse will succumb to the venom by the tissue loss and damage through the blood stream which causes the heart to stop beating."

Vainright said people should avoid the temptation to kill snakes or attempt to kill a snake when someone is bitten.

"You're more likely to be bitten trying to kill the snake than you are if you leave it alone," he said. "Give them space, keep away from them. Know where they are but don't try to kill them. Especially the non-venomous snakes. They can't hurt you.

"All they're going to do is eat rodents and other pests that might cause problems," Vainright said.

While copperheads are more common, timber rattlers are found in thick pine forest or pocosin areas and cottonmouths prefer swamps, streams, ponds and creeks.

Vainright said people should educate themselves about snakes rather than resort to killing them.

"Snakes are very misunderstood," he said. "They're believed to be evil and out to get people but they are not. They are just a part of nature just like all the other animals and plants out there.

"They're just trying to survive, reproduce and live out their natural way. I don't think you should kill any snake," he said.

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