Deaths from copperhead bites rare in Missouri

Saturday, July 12, 2014 | 2:49 p.m. CDT; updated 4:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2014

*An earlier version of this article misstated the least venomous snake in Missouri.

ST. LOUIS — An eastern Missouri man's death this week from a copperhead snake bite is so rare that only two others in the state's history have suffered a similar fate, state conservation officials said.

Timothy Levins, 52, of St. Charles, died Tuesday evening after being bitten at Sam A. Baker State Park. The only other known deaths from copperhead bites in Missouri happened in the 1960s and in 2012.

Of the 47 species of snakes in the state, only five are venomous. Of those — which also include the timber rattlesnake, cottonmouth, pygmy rattlesnake and massasauga rattlesnake — the venom of the copperhead* is least toxic, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

"Typically, copperhead bites are not fatal," said Dan Zarlenga, a spokesman for the conservation department, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "They don't have the strongest venom. Most of the time when this happens, it's because the person bit had additional health conditions or a stronger reaction to the venom than most people."

Levins was at a cabin in the state park when he saw the snake, which was 18 to 20 inches long, and pointed it out to his son, Wayne County Sheriff Dean Finch said. The copperhead bit Levins two or three times after he picked it up, the sheriff said.

A person in a neighboring cabin started CPR after Levins became ill, but Levins was pronounced dead at a Poplar Bluff hospital.

Nearly 100 people are bitten by snakes in Missouri each year, with about 25 percent of those non-venomous.

A majority of bite victims are men in their 20s, Zarlenga said, and the bites occurred when the person tried to pick up the snake or kill it.

"This was a very unfortunate incident," he said of Levins' death. "But people need to know that if you see a snake, just let it be. Even if you're curious. If you can't identify it, don't pick it up. Don't pick it up, anyway."

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