An odd thing happens when it comes to treating snake bites.

People, for some reason, tend to bring the snakes with them.

Dr. Bill Mileski, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s trauma department, has seen all sorts of dead snakes while treating people for bites. Rattlesnakes. Copperheads. Cottonmouths.

One time, a patient was bitten by a coral snake, he said. What was especially worrying in that case was that the highly venomous snake was still alive and in a jar that the patient brought to the hospital with him.

“We had to call Moody Gardens to come get it,” Mileski said.

The medical branch treats about a dozen venomous snake bites a year, Mileski said. It is well-stocked with anti-venom, called Crofab, which counteracts the effects of a venomous bite.

Not all those bites get noticed by the public, although a recent incident ended up on being featured on Houston TV stations.

Austin Fleming , a 16-year-old Texas City resident, was bitten by a rattlesnake outside a Jamaica Beach house May 4. Fleming said he had crossed a wooden dune walkover about 11 p.m. when a rattlesnake struck.

He told Houston TV station KHOU the bite felt like getting stabbed. Fleming was sent home May 14, after eight days in the hospital.

That’s the outcome for most snake bites in Texas. Only two deaths from snakebites occur annually in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Lightning strikes kill more.

Fleming did the right thing by going to the hospital right away, Mileski said. Quickly getting treatment for a snake bite is the best way to avoid tissue loss and other complications — and to relieve the pain.

Snakes and snake bites are not unusual in Galveston. Snakes are part of the island’s natural fauna, said Josh Henderson, an animal control officer.

Animal control receives calls frequently about snakes, Henderson said. Control officers capture and move snakes from highly trafficked areas such as Stewart Beach, he said.

Captured snakes are not killed. There’s enough wild space left on the island to release them safely, Henderson said.

Occasionally, people call animal control to remove snakes from their homes, Henderson said. He once responded to a report of a 10-inch rattlesnake that had found a home on a bookshelf on the West End, he said.

The best way to avoid a snake bite is to know where they live, which usually is in wild spaces, Henderson said.

“They live in the dunes because there are food sources in them,” Henderson said. “So, it’s not really safe to play in the dunes.”

Dogs are supposed to be kept on leashes in Galveston, even on the wide-open West End, Henderson said. Still, sometimes dogs get free or snakes get too close, and there’s a bite.

Fortunately, because snake bites happen on the island so frequently, local veterinarians, like the local hospital, are stocked with antivenins to treat pets.

“There’s really no better place to get bit,” Henderson said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


Senior Reporter

(1) comment

timothy spencer

Comparing the number of rattlesnake bites resulting in death to humans in Texas to the number of people killed by lightning is just as ignorant as comparing the number of people killed by sharks to the number of people killed by lightning. Everyone that goes outside or is near a window is subject to lightning strikes but only the people that are around areas where rattlesnakes live are subject to be killed by a rattlesnake. The same goes for shark attacks. A person is going to have to be on or in the water to be killed by a shark but everyone is subject to being killed by lightning.

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