After child’s encounter, parents look to make others aware of venomous snakes
4-year-old encounters copperhead
A normal, playful summer day for a 4-year-old Lusby boy took an abrupt turn Aug. 27 after a copperhead snake bit his leg while he was retrieving a ball in his backyard.
Isaac Barrett was playing with his brother, sister and friends in his backyard when the ball they were playing with rolled into the woods. Barrett — who was wearing shorts and crocs — walked in the woods and came out screaming “inconsolably.”
“Nobody ever saw the snake. Everyone thought that he got into some thorns. That’s what the kids told us,” Melissa Barrett, Isaac’s mother, said as she described the scrapes and puncture marks. “Pretty quickly they started to swell and bruise and the swelling spread and was turning a little dark.”
After observing the marks on the inside of Isaac’s leg, slightly above the ankle, Melissa looked up copperhead snake bites on the internet, as the snake is commonly found in the surrounding area of their Lusby home. She noticed the similarities between the online photos and her son’s wounds, at which time she took him to Calvert Memorial Hospital for treatment.
Melissa said she never handled a poisonous bite before and initially didn’t know what to do.
“I tried to call 911 but they said they couldn’t give me any medical advice over the phone, so I called the hospital and they were able to direct me to [the emergency room],” she said. “They told me don’t tie anything around it because he already has the venom in him. [They said] just bring him to the hospital.”
Bruce Anderson, executive director of the Maryland Poison Center at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, said the best thing to do after a snake bite is get to the emergency room for diagnosis and treatment. Anderson said most people don’t know how to identify various snakes, and thus won’t know if the snake that bit them is poisonous until proper diagnosis.
“Even if it is a venomous snake you got bitten by, the animal can choose to envenomate you or not, meaning they can bite you without injecting venom, so you don’t know if you need treatment. The way you figure that out is get into the emergency room. They’ll be able to keep an eye on you, make sure you’re safe and monitor for development of symptoms,” Anderson said, indicating that most Marylanders bitten by a poisonous snake are victims of copperheads.
Anderson said copperhead venom usually produces a lot of tissue destruction, which leads to pain and swelling at the bite site. If the bite is bad enough, the swelling can progress throughout the body.
Based on the swelling, puncture marks and color of the wounds, personnel at Calvert Memorial believed Isaac to be the victim of a copperhead snake bite, which they said was not uncommon in the county. The only other poisonous snake native to Maryland is the timber rattlesnake, which is less commonly found. Isaac began receiving anti-venom at Calvert Memorial Hospital before being transported by ambulance to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Georgetown University’s Children’s Medical Center.
At Children’s Medical Center, Isaac received anti-venom treatment for more than 24 hours. He received his last dose of anti-venom the morning of Aug. 30 and was released from the hospital later that day. Although his leg was still sore and he couldn’t walk that day, Melissa said he has greatly improved compared to the moments following the bite.
“I think that the hospital did a really good job and they seemed to be really knowledgeable,” Melissa said, indicating both hospitals were in continuous contact with the American Association of Poison Control Centers as a treatment plan for Isaac was developed.
Anderson said it’s very common for hospitals and emergency rooms to contact the Maryland Poison Center for advice and tips, adding that the center serves the vast majority of Maryland.
“Snake bites are a relatively uncommon thing. No specific emergency medicine physician is going to have a huge amount of experience dealing with snake bites and we hear about 50 to 100 cases every year,” Anderson explained. “We have a pretty good database of experience and a lot of highly trained and specialized folks staffing the phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The phone number to contact the center is 1-800222-1222. This will get callers in contact with the closest poison control center to wherever the phone was originally set up.
As of Thursday, Isaac Barrett was “running and jumping and full of the dickens,” his mother said, explaining that his leg is a little sore to the touch, but not slowing him down.
“He says now that he’s been bitten by a snake, he’s not scared of anything except spiders, because they are creepy,” Melissa said.
Isaac Barrett, 4, of Lusby was bitten by a copperhead snake in his backyard Aug. 28. He is currently recovering after being treated at Calvert Memorial Hospital and Georgetown University’s Children’s Medical Center.
Pictured is the timber rattlesnake, one of two poisonous snakes native to Maryland.
Pictured is the northern copperhead, one of two poisonous snakes native to Maryland. It can be identified by its diamond head and cat-like pupils.