Camper dies after Copperhead bite along Current River

2012-07-04T00:30:00Z 2014-07-11T07:55:10Z Camper dies after Copperhead bite along Current RiverBY TIM O'NEIL • toneil@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8132 stltoday.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is from 2012 but was being widely recirculated, largely through, Facebook two years later. 

A man from southeast Missouri who had been complaining of chest pain died of a heart attack one day after he was bitten by a copperhead snake while camping on the Current River, the Carter County coroner’s office confirmed Tuesday.

Terry Brown, 50, of Ellsinore, died Sunday in Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center. The state Department of Conservation says his death is only the third on record in Missouri attributed to a venomous snake. The others were in 1933 and 1965.

Erik McSpadden, deputy coroner in Carter County, said Brown had been complaining of chest pains for several days before he was stricken. McSpadden said his office listed the cause of death as a heart attack, with the snake bite as a contributing factor.

"It definitely contributed to his death," McSpadden said. "It’s hard to know if it was the venom or the excitement he experienced from being bitten."

An ambulance transported Brown to the hospital in Poplar Bluff, 40 miles to the east. McSpadden said Brown was camping with relatives on the Current River on Saturday, his 50th birthday.

The site is downstream from Van Buren and Big Spring in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Ellsinore is in Carter County, east of the river.

McSpadden said witnesses told investigators that Brown had seen a snake in one of the tents and was trying to remove it when the snake bit him on the right thumb. The sheriff’s office was notified by telephone at 9:14 p.m. Saturday.

Joe Jerek, Conservation Department spokesman, said there are only two other known cases of deaths involving venomous snakes in Missouri. In 1965, a man, 72, died after being struck by a copperhead in Platte County, north of Kansas City.

The other case, in 1933, involved a timber rattlesnake, but no details are available on the victim or location of the incident, Jerek said.

Jerek said snake bites are rare because snakes try to get away from humans and strike only when cornered or threatened. Whether a snake bite can be fatal depends upon factors such as the victim’s health and sensitivity to venom, location of the bite on the body and the availability of medical treatment, he said.

Jerek said bites by venomous snakes are rare. He said the Missouri Poison Center recorded 596 such bites from 1993 to 1999, or about 85 per year. None was fatal.

Jerek said copperheads are the most widely distributed of the five species of venomous snakes in Missouri, and their venom is the least dangerous to humans. The most venomous is the timber rattlesnake.

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