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North Texas Hospitals See Rise In Snakebites

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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GRANBURY (CBSDFW.COM) - CBS11 discovered rural hospitals in North Texas are experiencing a substantial increase in snakebite patients this season. Some hospitals have already seen more patients than they typically do in an entire year.

Most of the bites are from copperhead snakes, which are rarely fatal. One 10-year-old girl near Granbury though is recovering from being bitten by two rattlesnakes at the same time, one on each foot.

“I did not see anything,” said Courtney Elswick. “I just heard a rattle and hiss.”

Elswick was bitten as she jumped out of her father’s truck in the driveway of his rural home northwest of Granbury. She spent five days in the hospital, and now is using a walker and a wheelchair to get around. Her right foot is blistered, and bruised where a baby rattlesnake bit her. Her left foot is also swollen, where a larger snake bit her.

“I was worried,” said her father Noah. “Probably about three or four days there.”

Hospitals, EMS workers and bite victims who spoke to CBS11 said most of the bites are happening in populated areas, near homes. Tiffany Burgess said she was only a few feet out the back door of a new home in Possum Kingdom Lake when she felt a sharp pressure on her foot.

“You’re thinking, am I going to lose my foot? You have no idea what’s going to happen at that point,” Burgess said. Her bite was dry, with no venom from the copperhead snake. It was still extremely painful though she said for a couple of days.

Hospitals typically start to see bites in the late spring and summer months as snakes start to move around. The numbers have spiked though in the last few months. Graham Regional Medical Center, where Burgess went, said it has treated six patients. Palo Pinto General Hospital in Mineral Wells has treated nine. It usually sees five in an entire year. Weatherford Regional Medical Center has already had 20, including nine in May, and eight in June. It only saw 19 all of last year.

ER director John Jones at Palo Pinto General said it’s the biggest spike he’s ever seen. The hospital keeps enough anti-venin on hand to treat two patients at a time.

“We keep enough in the pharmacy to treat two folks so we’re not having to run out and restock quickly if we have two bites back to back.”

The increase can become a strain on rural hospitals Jones said. The treatment cost runs hospitals $2,000 per vial, with initial treatments calling for four to six vials per patient.

“Potentially if we’re treating folks who are uninsured and things of that nature, we’re just going to eat the cost of it,” he said.

Residents have been speculating about the cause of the spike. Some have blamed last seasons wildfires. Others have wondered if new construction is pushing animals around. Charles Songer at Charlee’s House of Reptiles in Weatherford , who often removes problem snakes for customers, said he saw few at all last season during the drought and record heat. That’s changed in a big way.

“Every day I have people coming in with pictures on their phones going hey, what is this, what is this,” he said.

He and a partner, Jason Ziegler, said they believe the mild winter, coupled with substantial spring rains are the most likely explanation.

“The rain ups the insects, the insects up the rodents, the rodents up the reptiles,” Ziegler said.

Mike Comella, with Wichita Falls Reptile Rescue agreed.

“I would tentatively say that if our rain fall keeps coming, and temps don’t go sky high too soon, then this could result in higher than average numbers of snake reports this year for mating season,” he said in an email response.

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