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Two Boys in St. Mary's Are Bitten by Copperheads

By Matt Zapotosky and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 13, 2008

At least three people, including two in St. Mary's County, have been hospitalized in Maryland in the past two weeks after being bitten by copperhead snakes.

In the most recent case, a 17-year-old youth from the Chaptico section of St. Mary's was bitten on the driveway of his family home late Wednesday, his mother said last night.

Mary Getscher said her son Caleb spent two days in the intensive care unit at St. Mary's Hospital after being bitten just above the big toe on his left foot.

He remained hospitalized last night, Getscher said in a telephone interview.

On Aug. 30, a 9-year-old boy from the Scotland area of St. Mary's was bitten on a finger while he was at the edge of a wooded area near his home, according to his mother, Michele Slade.

She said the boy, Joshua, was taken to St. Mary's Hospital and then to Children's National Medical Center, where he spent two nights.

"This is the first time we've seen a copperhead," Slade said last night.

Reports of additional snakebites in the county in recent days could not be confirmed immediately.

In Western Maryland, a 3-year-old girl was hospitalized after she was bitten by a copperhead during Labor Day weekend.

The girl, whose name was not available, was bitten on the hand while camping with her family at Greenbrier State Park. She was taken to Washington County Hospital and then flown to Children's.

It was not immediately clear whether there was an explanation for the occurrence of three snakebites in the state in less than two weeks.

In the Chaptico incident, Mary Getscher said she believed that the copperhead had crawled onto the asphalt driveway of her home to seek warmth after dark.

She said her son did not see the snake that bit him. However, she said, he went into the house in what she described as excruciating pain.

Examination of his foot, she said, showed two fang marks.

Family members went outside to prepare to take the teenager to the hospital and spotted the snake.

"We killed it with a shovel," Getscher said. They put it in a bucket, where it remained last night, she said.

At the hospital, she said, medical personnel kept the youth's leg under close observation, and when his ankle began to swell, they began treatment with antivenin.

Calling her son "a big, strapping kid" who is not given to complaining, she said, "It's amazing how painful this is."

The swelling has abated, but she said she expects that her son, a college student, would "probably be on crutches for a couple of weeks."

In the other St. Mary's incident, Michele Slade said Joshua had been target shooting with his father and grandfather.

"He went to set up a can along the edge of the woods . . . and when he set the can down, he saw the snake, and it jumped out and bit him," she said.

Slade said her husband shot the snake. Joshua's hand began to swell immediately after the bite, she said.

At St. Mary's Hospital, she said, it turned out that he was allergic to the primary antivenin treatment.

"It was pretty scary," she said of the entire incident.

The boy was flown by helicopter to Children's and was released Sept. 1, she said. She said her son is "doing very well" and called him "very lucky."

She said she understood that there had been other bites in the area. "It's almost like an epidemic lately," she said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources said she had no information about any increase in snakebites in the state.

An official in the St. Mary's department of animal control said he had not heard of the snakebites.

A spokeswoman for St. Mary's Hospital said an emergency department physician told her last night that the hospital had seen three snakebite cases in the past two weeks.

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