Greene SC, Folt J, Wyatt K, and Brandehoff NP. Epidemiology of fatal snakebites in the United States 1989-2018. Am J Emerg Med 2021; 45:309-316.
The American journal of emergency medicine
BACKGROUND: There are 5000-10,000 snake envenomations annually in the United States. Fortunately, few are fatal. In this study we review the epidemiology of fatal snakebites.
METHODS: Native snakebite cases from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) National Poison Data System from 1989 to 2018 were reviewed. Additional cases that were not reported to the AAPCC were identified by reviewing Wikipedia and by searching PubMed and online news outlets using various combinations of relevant keywords.
RESULTS: We identified 101 fatal bites from native snakes. Rattlesnakes accounted for 74 (90.2%) of the 82 deaths for which the species was known or which occurred where rattlesnakes are the only native crotalids. There were five fatalities attributed to copperheads, two due to cottonmouths, and one caused by an eastern coral snake. Males were disproportionately affected. The median age for victims was 40 years old. In cases for which data were available, many of the snake interactions were intentional, e.g. religious services, animal husbandry, and attempting to kill the snake.
CONCLUSIONS: Death following envenomation from a native U.S. snake is unlikely, particularly if medical attention is sought promptly. Rattlesnake envenomations are more likely to be fatal than bites from other species. Intentionally engaging with a venomous snake raises the risk of incurring a fatal bite, as does concurrent alcohol or drug use. Age less than 12 years old does not appear to be a risk factor for a fatal outcome, while elderly patients may have a slightly increased risk of death.