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Misidentification of copperhead and cottonmouth snakes following snakebites .

Clinical Toxicology 2018 December
INTRODUCTION: Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and cottonmouth or water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) snakes account for the majority of venomous snakebites in the southern United States. Cottonmouth snakes are generally considered to have more potent venom. Copperheads are considered less venomous and there is some controversy as to whether or not bites from copperhead snakes need to be treated with antivenom. Copperhead and juvenile cottonmouth snakes are both brown in color. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the accuracy of identification by the public and healthcare providers between these two species.

METHODS: Snakebite victims sometimes bring dead snakes to the hospital or have taken pictures of the snake. When this occurred, ED personnel were asked to take a picture of the snake, and forward the picture to the state poison control center. The identification of the snake by witnesses and/or hospital personnel was compared to the identification by the state herpetologist.

RESULTS: During the study period, there were 286 cases of snakebites reported to the state poison control center. Pictures were obtained on 49 of the responsible snakes. All copperhead snakes were identified correctly by callers. However, only 21% of cottonmouth snakes were identified correctly, with 74% of cottonmouth snakes being identified as copperheads. Both public and medical personnel performed poorly on identification of cottonmouth snakes.

CONCLUSIONS: Forty percent of the snakes identified as copperheads were actually cottonmouth snakes. Juvenile cottonmouth snakes were often identified as copperhead snakes.

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