Snakebite Threat Lags in U.S., but Still Remains

Snakebites in the U.S. are seldom deadly -- but invariably excruciating.

ByABC News
November 6, 2008, 5:44 PM

Nov. 7, 2008— -- "I feel pretty good, considering what happened," said 21-year-old Eric Couch of Hazard, Ky., as he recovered at the University of Kentucky Medical Center on June 30. "It's a sucky experience, I can say that."

Couch, who works in salvage, was bitten on his left hand by a copperhead rattlesnake while moving some bricks. The strike was laden with venom -- a fact that soon became clear to Couch.

"After it bit me, it took it about 15 minutes for it to kick in," he said. "I felt like I was higher than a kite. I was wobbling all over, and everything was going in circles."

Couch immediately went to the hospital, where treatment for his bite began. He was later transported to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for further treatment.

Fortunately, Couch's quick thinking saved his life. But the bite came with serious potential consequences.

"They said two things could have happened: It could have caused me to get my hand amputated, or it could have killed me," he said. "So I said, 'Let's get this taken care of; I don't want to get my hand amputated, and I'm not ready to die.'"

While Couch's experience was harrowing, it is fortunately one that relatively few people in the United States will experience. Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, only about 1 in 500 will die from the bite they receive. In fact, deaths by snakebite rarely exceed 10 in any given year in this country.

Such is not the case throughout the rest of the world. In a study released Monday in the journal PLoS Medicine, Sri Lankan researchers said a conservative estimate is that 421,000 people worldwide fall victim to poisonous snakebites each year -- and at least 20,000 die.

But the study authors noted that the figures could run as high as 1.8 million venomous bites -- and 94,000 deaths.