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Treating summertime bites: Busting myths about snake bites, jellyfish stings, yellow flies and more

It's snake season so you should be on the lookout when outside. We are here to help you know what not to do if you're bitten and which snakes are venomous.
It's snake season so you should be on the lookout when outside. We are here to help you know what not to do if you're bitten and which snakes are venomous.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We’re helping you tackle summertime bites: everything from snakes, jellyfish and yellow flies to bees, wasps and ants.

We’ll show you how to treat the stings and bites and most importantly what NOT to do.

We’re busting the myths and helping you ease the pain. So let’s get started!

Snake bites

More than 200 snake bites have been reported to poison control so far in Florida since the snake season started in April.

Most of these bites are accidental, caused when someone working in their garden sticks their hand in a bush or flower bed and is bitten by a snake hiding within.

Others are more preventable, Dr. Anthony DeGelorm said. He’s seen an increase in the number of bites among young people who attempt to pose with a snake to snap a selfie to post on social media.

“They will try to get pictures. They will try to play with them and that’s usually when they get bit. Snakes tend to not be aggressive unless you go and grab them first,” he said.

There are 50 species of snakes in Florida. Six are dangerous or venomous. They are eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes, timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins and coral snakes.

Six venomous snakes in Florida

“Pit vipers, rattlers, copperhead, cottonmouths, these have a venom that can cause a lot of swelling,” explained DeGelorm. “The coral snakes are very bright red, yellow and black. Their neurotoxin can actually paralyze your diaphragm and you can stop breathing. Those can be lethal as well.”

DeGelorm said most people know to call 911 or poison control when they are bitten, but far too many make mistakes when trying to mitigate the bite before going to the hospital.

He said there are four mistakes you should always avoid when treating a snake bite:

  • Do not apply ice or heat
  • Do not try to cut out/suck out the venom
  • Do not apply a tourniquet
  • Do not try to catch the snake

He said even though it’s been known for years that you should not try to suck out the venom, he said he still treats people for making this mistake.

“Once you get bit, that venom has spread. No amount of suction is going to take it back out. All you do is get all the germs from your mouth around the bite area. You get a risk of infection and believe it or not, snakebites are relatively clean,” DeGelorm said. “A lot of times we don’t have to give antibiotics, but if you put a human mouth on it, now you contaminated it. It’s dirty. You can make the bites worse.”

He said if you can safely take a picture of the snake, that is helpful, so they know if the snake bite involved a venomous reptile, but it is not necessary for doctors to know what kind of snake is involved.

“Two bites is substantially worse than one,” he explained about the risk of chasing or trying to kill the snake and getting bitten in the process.

“We can treat based on the symptoms and that’s how all of us are trained -- to look for swelling, some lab results, we take blood samples, all of that will help guide our treatment without ever seeing the snake,” he said.

If you are bitten, he recommends elevating the bite location level with the heart or slightly higher, not using the part of your body that was bitten and removing any restrictive jewelry or clothing that could cut off blood supply if there is swelling. He said you should call 911 or poison control: 1-800-222-1222.

Jellyfish stings

The vast majority of jellyfish stings are not life-threatening. Treatment usually involves helping to abate the symptoms. The medical director for the Jacksonville Beach lifeguards and DeGelorm from UF Health recommend:

  1. Remove any remaining tentacles with your fingertips
  2. Rinse the area with warm water, preferably the water where the sting originated, like the ocean
  3. Monitor for any signs of severe reaction

DeGelorm suggests using vinegar to relieve some of the sting, but this may not work with all jellyfish stings, like man-o-wars.

He said using urine to treat a jellyfish sting is an old wives’ tale. It does not work.

Other things to avoid

  • Rubbing the area with sand
  • Liquids like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, vinegar

Yellow flies, bees, wasps, ant bites

The poison control center said applying a baking soda paste can help relieve the sting by cooling the area. This is created by mixing the powder with a small amount of water.

Hydrocortisone can also be used. If the sting area swells, ice can be applied first.


About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.