Daniel F. Mitchell, 53, was bitten by a rattlesnake Sept. 20 in Salem, a Cherokee County community near the Georgia state line, said Phillip Winkles, chief of the Piedmont Rescue Squad. The rescue squad responded to a call from Mitchell’s home in the Pleasant Gap community on Cherokee County Road 8 at 5:19 p.m. A friend had driven Mitchell home, and the ambulance picked him up there, Winkles said.
Winkles said the ambulance took Mitchell to Regional Medical Center Jacksonville, but that during the trip he went into cardiac arrest.
Mitchell was resuscitated after he received antivenin for the bite, but he was unresponsive, Winkles said. Piedmont Rescue returned to the Jacksonville hospital less than three hours later to transfer Mitchell to the intensive care unit at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Winkles said. Mitchell died on Tuesday.
Efforts to reach Mitchell’s family on Friday were unsuccessful.
RMC emergency room physician Dr. Vinit Patel said when snakebite victims come in, the hospital calls the Poison Control Center in Birmingham for protocols on how to treat the bite. Depending on the type of snake, the center gives instructions for the treatment, Patel said.
The Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama has a record of just one death from a snake bite in Alabama in the last five years, a spokeswoman for the hospital said. The spokeswoman was unsure whether the recorded death was Mitchell’s.
Deaths resulting from snake bites are very rare in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are between 7,000 and 8,000 venomous-snake bites across the nation each year, but only about five deaths, according to the website.
Whit Gibbons, a retired professor at the University of Georgia and author of “Snakes of the Southeast,” said there are probably more like five to 10 deaths each year.
The deaths are rare in the United States for a couple of reasons, Gibbons said. First, the vast majority of bites are from copperheads, the venom of which is relatively mild, Gibbons said.
“It hurts a lot, but fatalities are very rare,” he said.
In addition, snakes in the wild need their venom to survive. They use the venom to kill prey they want to eat; but snakes don’t eat people, he said. If a person approaches a snake, it tries to warn them off with a “dry” bite or a bite with very little venom, Gibbons said.
“It’s a threat display, not an effort to kill something,” he said.
If someone dies from a snake bite, it’s usually from a pet snake, Gibbons said.
Pet snakes don’t have to hunt to eat. They have a lot of venom and may mistake their owner’s hand as food and give it the full-force bite, Gibbons said.
The most common venomous snakes in Calhoun County are copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, Gibbons said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.