True North Blog

Pittsburgh-Area Snakebite Victim Already Back Camping

I have been diligently working these last few weeks on an article about first aid treatment for venomous snakebites that I will be submitting to an outdoors magazine in the next few days.  In it, my goal is to  underscore many of the same points that I already have in several blog posts this last several weeks.  One important point, then, is to try to help dispel many myths and misconceptions concerning snakebites, not just when it comes to first aid, but also about how supposedly “deadly” they are.  The fact of matter is that while snakebites are certainly a serious medical emergency, not very many people actually die.

Consider, for example, what happened this past Sunday on the Yough River Trail in Fayette County, about 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  A woman was gathering firewood when she thought that a bee stung her hand.  Instead, she found a copperhead hanging from it.  After an unknown male rescuer used a gun to shoot it off, and a female rescuer tried to squeeze out the venom, she was eventually transported by EMS to Allegheny General Hospital.  The very next day, though still feeling a bit nauseous, the woman was otherwise in good condition so she discharged herself — and went back to her camp.

To find out what happened, please check out these related news links.

I think that this account helps put this kind of emergency into perspective.

Still, I cannot help but debate two concerns that, though I was not there and in the initial rescuers position, troubles me.  First, and foremost, I wonder if it was actually wise to shoot the snake.  Yes, I understand the concerns and risks trying to manually remove a copperhead, but it seems that accidentally shooting the woman, or anyone else, seems a much greater risk to life and limb.

Second, it was probably not a good idea to try to squeeze out the venom.  Research indicates that even snakebite kits are ineffective when it comes to removing venom.  So my concern is that it created several potential risks: attempting to suck or squeeze out venom may only concentrate it and thereby cause more tissue damage; since the venom acts as an anticoagulant, there is the increased concern about blood loss; and, lastly, it wastes precious transport time to a hospital.

Anyway, I hope that this is a helpful learning tool for all of us.


Would you like learn more about how to care for a venomous snakebite, or some other outdoors emergency?  Then consider registering for one of our upcoming Wilderness First Aid (WFA) courses this November and December.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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