Jacksonville poison control center sees surge in snakebite calls

Most snakebites treated with antivenom

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after an 8-year-old boy was bitten by a rattlesnake in his Nocatee backyard and was treated with antivenom for the snakebite, Florida's Poison Control Center in Jacksonville reported seeing a surge in snakebite calls. 

Reptiles are common in the Northeast Florida area but, lately, there seem to be more snake sightings. Dr. Jay Schauben, director of Florida's Poison Control Center in Jacksonville, told News4Jax on Friday that there have also been more snakebite calls. 

"This past weekend, the poison center in Florida had 14 snakebites reported that we were managing at that point in time," Schauben said. "We continue through this week to have several more."

He said there are two types of venomous snakes in Florida.

"One is the pit viper group, of which the rattlesnakes, the copperheads, the water moccasins," Schauben said. "We also have the coral snake."

SLIDESHOW: How to spot venomous snakes in Florida

CDC : What you should do if you're bitten by a snake:

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible (call 911 or local emergency medical services).
  • Try to remember the color and shape of the snake, which can help with treatment of the snake bite.
  • Keep still and calm. This can slow down the spread of venom.
  • Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
    • Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.
    • Wash the bite with soap and water.
    • Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.

What you should NOT do:

  • Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten. Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Do not slash the wound with a knife.
  • Do not suck out the venom.
  • Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
  • Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages.

If you’re bitten by a snake, Poison Control advises that you do not try at-home remedies such as sucking out the venom or applying ice.

According to Poison Control, the most important items are your phone -- to call 911 or the hospital closest to you -- and your car keys -- to get you to that hospital as quickly as possible. 

Most bites are treated with antivenom. There’s one for the pit vipers and one for the coral snakes. 

"The number of vials of the antivenom is going to be dependent upon how much venom the snake gave you and the type of snake," Schauben said. 

Poison Control said the average person is given between four and 10 vials.

"The most common one we use is produced in sheep," Schauben said. "They actually will be injected with the venom. We collect the antibodies from the sheep. Those antibodies are then cleaved and cleaned and washed and sterilized and packaged."

Schauben said those sheep are only in Australia, which could be one reason why antivenom can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

According to Poison Control, most hospitals have antivenom on hand and, if not, it's easily accessible.

On Friday, News4Jax reached out to a handful of Jacksonville-area hospitals about antivenom. Memorial and St. Vincent's responded, both saying they keep a standard amount in stock and, if more is needed, local hospitals are able to share. They said hospitals are also able to request more from state agencies, which can rapidly transport it. 

Most importantly, if you see a snake, stay away. But if you are bitten by one, your first priority is getting to an emergency room as soon as possible.