Cottonmouth Viper 'Spit' Sends National Zoo Employee to Hospital

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What do you get when you mix snake urine, feces and venom? For a reptile keeper at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the toxic concoction got her a quick trip to the hospital and a star appearance Monday on the District of Columbia Fire Department's twitter feed.

"EMS - snake bite - National Zoo - 3001 Connecticut Av NW - health unit - adult employee bit by snake," DC Fire and EMS tweeted at 4 p.m. Monday, still breaking in its new Twitter account.

That snippet was soon followed by this one:

"Update - Zoo - Cotton Mouth Viper 'spit' at keeper - EMS evaluated & transported adult female - checkup not serious anti-venom on board."

It turns out that while the reptile keeper was attempting to transfer a 3-foot-long cottonmouth viper to its holding cage, the snake bit itself in the tail, releasing a combination of urine, feces and venom. A small amount of that mixture shot into the employee's right eye.

"We don't even know if it was venom, if it was urine, if it was feces or a combination of one of the above, or all of the above," zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said.

This is the first snake-related hospital visit from the zoo in recent memory, she said.

After securing the snake, the employee was helped to an eye-wash station near the snake habitat and then to the zoo's health unit where her eye was rinsed again. "As an abundance of caution, she was sent to the hospital," Baker-Masson said.

Both the snake and the zoo keeper are "absolutely fine," Baker-Masson said.

Cottonmouths, also known as water moccasins, can "cause very severe, and even sometimes fatal, damage when they bite. But this is very uncommon because the cottonmouths are normally not very aggressive creatures," according to the zoo's web site.

Their venom breaks down blood cells, preventing clotting and potentially causing hemorrhages.

The fire department has been sending out 140-character updates on the shootings, stabbings, crashes and casualties of the District for "a good couple months," DC Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer said.

Any unusual emergencies, such as a National Zoo snake bite, or events that affect a large number of people, such as car accidents blocking major roadways, or developments in high-traffic areas, such as the National Mall, merit a tweet, Piringer said.

DC Fire Discovers Twitter

"My hope and intent is that Twitter will be used as a tool for people in the media," he said. "The side benefit will be for members of the community to be aware of what's going on."

More than 5,500 people are following dcfireems on the micro-blogging site.

Piringer said he is careful not to put anything too descriptive in his tweets, especially in those dealing with sick or injured people. The tweets usually include only the number of victims, the location of the incident and how the department is involved.

There have been no complaints thus far about the department's Twitter activity, he said.

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