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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Local resident bitten by copperhead

Zoya Melnichenko was watering her flowers when she was bit by a copperhead. [Photo by Steve Barrett]
Getting bitten by a copperhead is rare in Fairfax County, but it happened a couple of weeks ago right here in Mason District. And that should serve as a warning to other residents who spend a lot of time working or playing outside.

Zoya Melnichenko was watering her garden in the Parklawn neighborhood at dusk on the day after Mother’s Day when she accidentally stepped on a copperhead and it bit her on the ankle.It actually bit her twice, reports her daughter, Julia Munoz. “The first time, she felt something, looked down, and it bit her again.”

“It was extremely painful. It was the most painful thing she ever experienced,” Munoz says.

Her husband called the paramedics, and they did everything they could but didn’t check which hospital was best equipped to handle a poisonous snake bite. They took Melnichenko to Alexandria Hospital, which didn’t have anti-venom on hand and had to order it. Munoz later learned that anti-venom needs to be administered as soon as possible.

Northern Copperhead
Melnichenko spent three days in the hospital and was given antibiotics to prevent infection. She still has swelling and pain, which gets worse at night, Munoz says, and she still has difficulty walking.

Munoz wants the public to be aware of the danger of copperheads so no one else has to go through what happened to her mother.

The day after Melnichenko was bit, a copperhead bit a 3-year-old boy who playing in his driveway in Arlington, according to a report by Fox 5 News. His hand swelled up and turned purple, and he would lose consciousness and wake up screaming. He was treated with anti-venom and has recovered.

Copperheads are most active in the evening and early morning, Munoz learned, and they are not aggressive. “You can have tons of copperheads around you and they won’t attack” unless you get in their way. She urges people doing outdoor chores in the evening to wear boots and protective clothing.

Look where you’re putting your feet and never reach into a pile of stones, advised Lucy Gallimore, a naturalist at the Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, which has one juvenile copperhead in its wildlife collection. They are well camouflaged and like to hide among the rocks at Great Falls, she says.

The Northern Copperhead is the only poisonous snake in Virginia. They mostly eat rodents and insects but also eat birds and frogs.

According to Gallimore, “there is no recorded evidence that anyone has died from a copperhead bite.”  If bit, however, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible, as the venom could cause hemorrhaging, pain, swelling, breathing problems, headache, nausea, gangrene, and unconsciousness, states an article in West Virginia Wildlife.

Sometimes a snake bite is a “dry bite,” meaning no venom is injected, Gallimore says, but the victim wouldn’t know whether they’ve been subjected to a “dry bite” or “wet bite.”

The snake that bit Melnichenko slithered away and most likely returned to the wooded area behind her  house.


  1. We had a copperhead at my house in Clarke County (VA) and they completely blend into the forest floor. My experience is that they don't move away from humans as many other snakes do -- a copperhead will stay in one place and it's easy to step on it if you don't see it. I walk through the woods now much less than I used to.

    I also thought that rattlesnakes were native to Virginia.

  2. Timber rattlesnakes are in the western part of the state.

  3. I believe there are three poisonous snake species native to Virginia. Copperhead, Cottonmouth, and Timber Rattler. However, you won't find rattlesnakes outside of the mountains and cottonmouth snakes live further south. I have seen copperheads in the neighborhood.

  4. Always read the blog – good job and always informative.

    I would like to point out some corrections in regard to the article on the woman bitten by a copperhead:

    People do die from copperhead bites – not common but happens every so often. There are about 8,000 or so venomous snake bites each year in the US and few die – between 1960 and 1990 less than 13 people died each year from venomous snake bites. Most bites and the vast majority of deaths are in the western US from one of the many rattlesnakes in the US. But people do die from rattlesnakes in the east – and from copperheads.

    Also, the copperhead is not the only venomous snake we have in Virginia – we have rattlesnakes and the cottonmouth. It is PROBABLY the only venomous snake in NORTHERN VA but a rattlesnake is possible – they are know just to the east and south.

    The cottonmouth is only in the southeast corner so not an issue around here. Just thought you should know, I am a biologist and once had a student bitten by a rattlesnake.

  5. There are definitely cottonmouths in Virginia. When I was in high school (in Richmond) my cat killed a baby snake. I took it to my biology teacher for extra credit and she identified it as a cottonmouth. No more barefoot walks in the yard after that!

  6. We had several baby cooperheads in our yard last year that I killed. The last think I need is the snakes biting my kids or dogs.

  7. I think you can get a hold of a local wildlife rehabilitator and they would help to relocate the copperhead (the only venomous snake in our region). There is no need to kill our wildlife.

    1. Gee, thanks for your "thoughts" and your "opinion" that there is no need to kill "our" wildlife. I certainly share those bright and shiny sentiments.

      Why don't you do everybody a favor and do the research now before it is needed and share with us how we can "actually" in real time "get a hold of a local wildlife rehabilitator" (assuming we are not bit and are on the way to the hospital) who will capture and relocate the copperhead to a location far away from human housing.

      Because I am especially interested in having this information available, please find out whether we must pay for this service (and if so how many $$$) or if it is provided as a government or charitable service.

      Thanks for your comment which I understood to be an offer to help.

    2. Wow. Of course they wouldn't charge. Sounds like you may have enjoyed killing them to "protect your family" Educate yourself before you kill wildlife. Probably weren't even copperheads. #dragonslayer #familyman

  8. Recently heard that the Virginia Water Snake (harmless) is often mistaken for the copperhead. Don't know from personal experience, but heard it from a knowledgeable person.

  9. Interesting. There is a small brown snake, called the Northern Brown Snake, that is not venomous but looks a bit like that photo of a copperhead. They are not much bigger than a pencil. Except for one garter snake a few years ago, those are the biggest snakes I've seen in years. I figured the big ones had been exterminated by the snake-phobic.

  10. So which hospitals DO have anti-venom?

    1. Inova Fairfax Hospital is one...

  11. Snakes are venomous, not poisonous. Any type of animal that injects a toxin into your body is venomous.

  12. I live in Falls Church. I am 64 yrs old, healthy, non smoker, drinker. I water plants in the morning and evening when weather is dry and very hot. I always shower after going to yard immediately.
    I woke up with pain and swollen R foot, thinking I have a stress fracture from aging bones.
    The doctors thought I have cellulitis an infection. Took antibiotics, kind of better. But swelling and darkening color of my skin remains for four weeks now. I saw a tiny redd spot on the top. I also had fever, chills, a little it5chy skin now and then, sweats, whole body aches, joints and muscles and headache. I still don't know if it was a snake bite. Until some coworkers alerted me. Not sure but to me a second toe is tight and foot is still swollen. I hope I will not end up with local gangrene.
    Any suggestions?

  13. I entered my foot swollen few minutes ago. I urinated a lot, normal color during first few days also I drink a lot more water during the time. I am still not well, swollen foot and will discuss my concern to the doctor. I will update later.