3/29/19 Graham public safety students learn to treat snakebites
|When snakes attack|
Photos by Woody Marshall / Times-News
Chad Griffin with the Kernersville Reptile Center and Zoo holds a spectacled caiman as Graham High School students gather around to touch it after his presentation Thursday, March 28.
Graham public safety students learn to treat snakebites
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 3/29/19
Reprinted with permission.
Chad Griffin with the Kernersville Reptile Center and Zoo makes his presentation Thursday, March 28.
GRAHAM — A Western diamondback rattlesnake, one of America’s deadliest snakes, is staring down a Graham High School student.
It’s in a safely locked box.
And despite one student’s plea, “Are you going to take the snakes out?” Chad Griffin, of the Kernersville Reptile Center & Zoo, has no plans to tarnish his perfect safety record by introducing the rattler to local teens.
The diamondback was joined by an albino monocled cobra, gaboon viper and a spectacled caiman, too, on Thursday, March 28, as Griffin spoke to future firefighters and EMTs in Graham High School’s Public Safety Academy about responding to venomous snakebites.
“I have seen some of the nastiest stuff these guys can do to humans, and it is not pretty,” he said.
A professional herpetologist with decades of reptile experience, Griffin has assisted law enforcement, fire departments and community members across the state with dangerous snakes.
While the Western diamondback and its friends aren’t native to North Carolina, they still pose a threat to Alamance County in the form of exotic pets. There’s no law preventing citizens from keeping them.
“There are primates in this county. There are mammals. There are venomous snakes of all forms,” Griffin said.
And though most exotic pet owners take proper precautions, he said, sometimes accidents happen.
EMT Instructor Brook Price, who has 12 years of experience as a paramedic, tells Griffin she once responded to a call to find the patient passed out on the living room floor with snakes surrounding his body. In extreme cases like that, Griffin said, sometimes first responders have to use the patient’s body as cover when they’re removing them from the home.
“They will use humans as cover, you know that, if they have to,” he said. “It was their animals. If you’re already in there and you have to use that human as cover, as protection for you, protection for that, keeping [the person] as a shield. … They understand the risk. When I go into this, I understand the risk of what I’ve got. Do I expect you to go above and beyond stepping all around something like this to save my life? If I can’t deal with it, you still have to keep yourself safe.”
But those cases are extremely rare.
The more likely call will come from a hiker who’s been bitten by a copperhead on the trail.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. Only about five die, thanks to high-quality medical care and antivenom.
Copperheads are responsible for the majority of bites — not because they’re aggressive, but because they freeze when threatened, instead of fleeing, and often end up biting people who aren’t paying attention and step on them.
Luckily for Alamance County, these bites are rarely fatal because of the minimal venom released when copperheads strike in defense.
“Just because they bite does not mean they have to give venom,” Griffin said. “Venom is precious to them. It’s a hunter’s bullet.”
The best thing to do, if bitten, is get to a safe place, sit down and call 911. Remove any constricting items from the bite area — like a ring if bitten on the hand.
“The first thing that’s going to happen is the venom is going to start running,” Griffin said. “What you need to do is circle the wound and put the time. That’s the first thing that should happen, whether you’re bit — you’re out in the woods — or whether you’re dealing with someone who’s been bit: Circle the wound and mark the time as soon as you get to them.”
If possible, continue marking the area and time as the swelling expands.
Griffin warns not to use a snakebite kit or tourniquet, as that can cause further damage.
And despite what TV Westerns may claim, he adds, sucking the venom out of the bite area doesn’t help. It usually creates a second patient for first responders to deal with when they arrive, which means they’ll have to dispatch another ambulance and take up more of their extremely limited resources.
“That is why this class, I think, is absolutely awesome,” Griffin said, “because it gives you guys an early look at being able to do something that makes a difference, and you can make a great difference because they need more help.”